General Motors Joins the War on Coal

Coal is slowly being ousted by natural gas and renewable energies as an energy source. Even General Motors has joined the fight by eradicating the use of coal from its plants, which will allow the automobile company to prosper in a number of ways, including getting a head start on Obama’s fuel economy mandates. GM and Ford have already moved to aluminum bodies and parts for their vehicles; swapping coal for environmentally friendly energy sources is just another step forward for GM.

What does this mean? GM no longer burns coal in its facilities, instead opting for renewable energies. The company has switched coal out for solar panels, wind power, capture landfill gas (a renewable energy), and steam that has been converted from municipal waste. The technology that GM uses to burn coal, called boilers, are no longer needed and have since been shut down. According to Slate, “General Motors is already 87 percent of the way toward its goal of using 125 megawatts of renewable energy generating capacity by 2020.”

Yet, the corporation still relies on coal: it buys power from electrical facilities that burn coal; only 12 percent of GM’s energy sources are derived from renewables. But we can’t fault the car giant for making investments and efforts toward employing better environmental practices and energy mixes. GM’s small changes will result in bigger leaps to better our environment.

(From Slate)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 7, 2015

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“US New Auto Sales: Ford F-Series Pickup Truck Deliveries Drop; Ford Explorer Soars” – International Business Times, 3 March 2015

This past December, Ford rolled out its aluminum-body F-150 truck, the first of its kind for the company, but it seems like the new truck is just not cutting it: sales dipped for the car manufacturer’s F-Series truck line this February, and has put the company squarely behind its competitors.

Typically, the F-150 has the highest selling rate in the US; however, this February, overall sales dropped by two percent. Ford believes sales will continue to grow by 8 percent this year to 1.29 million units, compared to February 2014.

The Ford Transit light commercial vehicle and the Transit Connect compact panel van gave Ford trucks a four percent boost, even though the F-series line dropped by 1.2 percent. The Explorer full-sized crossover also gave the company’s stats a little nudge— the crossover jumped by 32 percent to sell 17,027 units.

It’s a shame that Ford’s F-150 isn’t selling as well as we’d hoped, since the company went through the entire process of shifting from a steel to aluminum body, which required new equipment and manufacturing processes. Obama has made this move a requirement for the automobile industry, mandating that manufacturers double new-car average fuel economy by 2025.

(From International Business Times)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 4, 2015

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“This company invented a better soda can. Why isn’t anybody buying?” – Grist, 30 October 2014

Less than a year after introducing the evercan, Novelis broke ground on a new multimillion dollar plant in Germany to manufacture the cans, which are made of 90 percent recycled aluminum. Novelis thought the evercan was a win-win for the company: the cans are cheaper to produce and more sustainable for the environment, since far less energy is used to produce recycled aluminum than virgin aluminum, a minimum of five percent.

With such advantages, it seems that the large beverage companies — Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, MillerCoors, etc. — would be chomping at the bit to get their hands on the evercan; however, these companies aren’t buying. The only company currently using the evercan is Georgia-based micro-brewer Red Hare Brewing Co. What’s even more odd is that Novelis’ aluminum supply is being purchased in spades by top automobile companies Ford and GM for their new lines of all-aluminum body cars.

But it seems that the beverage industry’s preferences are elsewhere. Besides the beverage companies’ hesitance to rely on one aluminum supplier, many of the companies, such as Coca-Cola, prefer PET plastic bottles to cans. Coca-Cola uses a bottle called a “plantbottle,” which is a PET bottle produced from sugar cane and sugar cane waste. The plantbottle makes up 60 percent of Coca-Cola’s worldwide sales. Moreover, the plantbottle is also resealable, which is a bonus for consumers.

Environmentally undesirable land filling, for obvious reasons, is a total waste of energy and valuable raw materials. Exporting lower value scrap is another way to export energy and valuable elements embedded in post-consumer aluminum products, only to come back to the US as more value added semi and fully finished products. This would adversely affect US trade balance.

Furthermore, economic incentives and societal consumer awareness supported by numerous newer scrap sorting technologies under development should limit land filling of scrap in US and reduce scrap export to countries like China.

If one beverage company vouches for the evercan, then perhaps other companies would follow suit. But more than that, the industries directly involved in recycling — aluminum, beverage, and waste — need to bolster their recycling actions so that Novelis has more material to work with.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 2, 2014

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“After 125 years, Alcoa looks beyond aluminum” – ETAuto.com, 29 June 2014

Alcoa was established in the US in 1888, and since then has become the third largest producer of aluminum in the world. The company has become a primary manufacturer for aerospace and automotive parts, recently striking a deal with jet engine parts manufacturer Firth Rixson to create parts that use nickel, titanium, and aluminum-lithium alloys, rather than primary aluminum. Alcoa’s diversification is the company’s attempt at dodging the current primary aluminum market, which is struggling with weak demand and overcapacity.

via Wall Street Journal

via Wall Street Journal

The company is slowly rebranding itself as a manufacturer of various lightweight metals. This past May, Alcoa opened a $100 million facility in Indiana that will manufacture nickel-based alloy engine parts. Alcoa is slated to invest $25 million in a Virginia-based facility that will also mostly generate nickel-based alloy jet engine blades. Alcoa’s expansion has helped their stock grow over 80 percent since last year.

Aluminum will never leave Alcoa, and its use is only becoming more important in the US. Obama’s 2010 mandate to double new-car average fuel economies by 2025 has forced large US car manufacturers, like GM and Ford, to opt for aluminum rather than steel. In the past, aluminum has been used in manufacturing wheels, engines, and hoods of cars, but now the US car industry is moving to all-aluminum bodied cars.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

July 2, 2014

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