“A new alloy is as good as titanium at a tenth of the cost” – Business Insider, 8 February 2015

South Korea-based scientist Dr. Hansoo Kim and his associates at the Pohang University of Science and Technology have created a new alloy by reconfiguring steel by a few nanometers, or billionths of a meter. Though the manipulation occurs on the smallest of scales, it creates an alloy that is as durable and light as titanium alloys but more economical.

Steel is continuously on the decline; now that President Obama has mandated that car fuel economies double by 2025, the US automotive industry has been working with big-name aluminum companies like Novelis and Alcoa to manufacture car parts. The aerospace industry is also experiencing the same push towards aluminum, since steel — although inexpensive and sturdy — remains a heavier metal. The percentage of steel made parts in cars has dropped from 68.1 percent in 1995 to 60.1 percent in 2011. Now that Ford is working on its new generation of all-aluminum F-150s, you can imagine that those numbers have dropped even further.

Dr. Kim took it upon himself to create a new alloy that still uses steel, but also employs a few other lighter metals. The combination he discovered to be the best is iron, aluminum, carbon, steel, and nickel. Without nickel, Kim found the alloy too fragile; however, adding the nickel allows for a reaction to occur between the nickel and aluminum to make new nanometers that bind more efficiently with the steel. The crystals that the nickel create prevent the alloy from fracturing.

The new alloy uses a combination of relatively cheap materials, which means it can still be cheap to purchase on an industrial scale. Fueled by global innovations, it’s only a question of how long before light metals like aluminum, magnesium, and now titanium will start  dominating as the material of choice for automobile production.

(From Business Insider)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

February 8, 2015

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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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“Heavy Metal Lurks in the Shadows” – Wall Street Journal, 27 December 2013

Across the world, millions of tons of metals — aluminum, copper, nickel and zinc — are being kept in secretive “shadow warehouses”, facilities that have gone unchecked and that don’t reveal their assets to the public. These warehouses function separately from the London Metal Exchange (LME), the long-established system for housing such metals.

Anywhere from 7-10 million tons of aluminum are being kept in shadow warehouses, both in the states and abroad, in places like Malaysia and the Netherlands; while a scant 5.5 million tons of aluminum are currently stored in LME warehouses.

Because producers and consumers don’t know how much metal actually exists on the market, it has become more and more challenging for experts to determine market pricing. If large quantities of metals surface onto the market from shadow warehouses, then it can become more costly to create everyday goods; conversely, mine and smelter production could be curbed if pricing falls beneath production expenses.

Shadow warehouses can be more profitable for companies involved in the metals markets: the unregulated facilities cost 10 times less than LME warehouses, while also providing companies with information that the general public doesn’t know. Yet, companies involved in the shadow warehouse system may have to pay higher bank interest rates, since LME warehouses are thought to be more stable.

In November, LME set new guidelines that obligate LME warehouses to ship out more metal than they receive, for deliveries with 50+ day wait times. Many LME warehouses have been experiencing massive bottlenecks, which the new rules address. The rules will begin on April 1.

Shadow warehouses exhibit the dark side of capitalism, where metals are stored and hoarded for profit making, and where market supply and demand dynamics are being artificially controlled.

See also:
Metals Logjam Benefits Producers
Aluminum Probe Focuses on Costs to Users
A Shuffle of Aluminum, but to Banks, Pure Gold

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 29, 2013

Phinix LLC

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