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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“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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“Aluminum Cars Take Heat from ArcelorMittal’s CEO” – Wall Street Journal, 17 June 2014

Europe, China, and the US have all cracked down on fuel economy standards; President Obama has introduced new regulations to improve the average fuel economy by 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Automobile companies, like Ford, are responding to the new regulations by creating a new line of F-150 pickups made out of all-aluminum bodies, and many other US car manufacturers are following suit. However, Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company, is an aluminum naysayer, contending that aluminum isn’t actually lighter than new designs of steel.

Due to US and European automotive companies’ move to aluminum, ArcelorMittal is now looking to expand and invest in developing economies, like China, Brazil, Mexico, India, and the Middle East, where steel is still heavily used.

According to Ducker Worldwide, 18% of vehicles will be produced entirely from aluminum by 2025, which will surely help the automotive industry to meet Obama’s proposed fuel economy standards. Though more expensive, aluminum is argued to be a lighter metal, which will thusly help to improve fuel efficiency; in the US, manufacturers’ fuel economies must increase by five percent each year until the 2025 mark. However, as ArcelorMittal presents, the flip side to manufacturing the same cars with all-aluminum bodies is to manufacture smaller cars out of steel, which was save the car industry the added expense of aluminum.

ArcelorMittal’s focus right now is on China, where it just opened VAMA, its first steel-manufacturing plant and a multi-million dollar undertaking with Hunan Iron & Steel Co. Through VAMA, the Chinese automotive industry will have access to 1.5 million tons of steel per year, an industry that has grown by 16% since 2013.

According to ArcelorMittal, the statistic that aluminum is 30% to 40% lighter than steel is only accurate if you’re equating aluminum to steel made in 2005. Steel produced in 2014 is harder and lighter than previous versions; current forms of steel have been refined using a distinctive heating and cool process. However, the Ducker Worldwide study still projects that a majority of automobiles will be manufactured out of aluminum parts by 2025.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

June 17, 2014

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