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Low-carbon aluminum helps OEMs reduce environmental footprint

Low-carbon aluminum helps OEMs reduce environmental footprint

Environmentally responsible aluminum producers have joined forces as the voluntary Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI), which is claimed to be the only responsible sourcing program that addresses practices along the full aluminium chain: from upstream production right through to downstream use sectors, such as packaging, transport, construction and engineering. In the automotive field, Hydro is one of the first aluminum producers to offer ASI-certified sustainable sheet aluminum. “We are very proud to supply ASI-certified metal, especially for the Audi e-tron, one of Audi’s flagships,” says Einar Glomnes, Executive Vice President at Hydro. Hydro now has 20 ASI-certified plants, spanning the valuechain from bauxite mining and alumina refining, primary aluminum production and remelting, to rolled products and extruded solutions.

Automotive Industries (AI) explored this and other trends in the aluminum industry in interviews with Dr Pascal Wagner, Senior Vice President at Hydro Aluminum Rolled Products and Hartmut Janssen, Head of New Business Development at Hydro Aluminium Rolled Products.

AI: What is the outlook for the aluminum industry? Wagner: Aluminum´s reach is growing in response to key longterm trends and substitution continues to be a key driver for aluminum. Lightweighting and electrification in the transport sector designed to achieve low-carbon mobility, urbanization and the need for more energy-efficient buildings and more sustainable packaging solutions such as cans, are driving the demand for aluminum. Looking at macro-economic developments we foresee a short-term economic dip. Mid- to long-term we expect solid growth in the automotive and can business as well as in general engineering. Growth in semis is expected to be at around three to four percent until at least 2025.

AI: How green is aluminum? Janssen: We see a general trend towards a low carbon society. Aluminum produced in a sustainable way is clearly part of the solution. Here, I clearly see the need to educate customers and society. We have to differentiate between aluminum produced with a fairly low CO2 emission and aluminum with a high CO2 emission, mainly from China due to coal-based energy supply and little energy efficiency in the production process. To give you some numbers here: Primary production based on coal has a CO2 footprint of 20 kg CO2/kg aluminum. In comparison to that, the primary production in Europe on average has a CO2 footprint of less than 7 kg CO2/kg aluminum. In the case where primary production is based on hydro-power, the CO2 footprint is even lower with less than 4 kg CO2/kg aluminum. Hydro can offer such low carbon-footprint aluminum with our newly introduced Reduxa® range of low-carbon aluminum. The lightweighting of cars is more important for electric vehicles (EVs) than it is for traditional combustion engines. Reducing weight in EVs is crucial for more efficient use of battery capacities and to be able to offer ranges which the consumer is requesting. Moreover, we see that urbanization also drives demand for new low-carbon mobility concepts.

Aluminum plays an important role in this cultural change. In addition, legislation is supporting the trend to electric mobility as more regulation of pollutant emissions is passed. What alloys/multi materials do you offer, and to what extend are they recyclable? Wagner: We offer a variety of alloys for our customers. Namely, the 1xxx, 3xxx, 5xxx and 6xxx ranges. Besides that, we offer clad materials. The selection of the alloy to be used depends on what the aluminum is needed for in the car. Alloying and processing technology is key here.

By combing the right alloy with the adequate processing parameters aluminum can be produced to meet the strongly varying customer needs: high strength, high formability, high electrical or thermal conductivity or specific surface qualities; whatever the specific application is requiring. This is achieved by developing tailor-made alloys and choosing adequate processing parameters. All our alloys are recyclable. Cladding, i.e. combining different aluminum alloys in form of layers is the most frequent multi-material application in aluminum. This is widely used in the so-called brazing sheets used for the fabrication of heat exchangers such as radiators for engine cooling, or condensers and evaporators in car climatization. Regarding multi-material, it is important to note that aluminum can also be joined with other materials to the enable multimaterial solutions customers are requiring. Joining aluminum and steel in a car is one example. For this purpose, special aluminum alloys with dedicated surfaces can be designed in order to suit the chosen joining technology, such as welding or gluing.

AI: What are the challenges and advantages with multi materials in terms of lightweight, safety, design? Janssen: We clearly see more advantages than challenges. The high functional integration as well as the load optimized material properties should first be mentioned. In addition, we recognize a clear lightweight potential. Space can be used in an optimal way and load as well as function can be brought in an optimized design.

A challenge is to develop and use suitable technologies for joining and forming.

AI: Where do you see the biggest growth opportunities for Hydro? Wagner: In principal, we are convinced that it is best to have a balanced product portfolio. This makes us robust in times of a weakening economy. For Hydro´s Rolling Business the biggest growth opportunities are in automotive and can, as well as in selected areas in general engineering. Here we also see the strongest support through societal movements and trends such as urbanization, low-carbon mobility or the general shift in mindset when it comes to pollution of our planet. Our latest investments show that we are working in this direction. The new automotive Line 3 in Grevenbroich as well as our recycling plant for used beverage cans in Neuss underline this. For us it is clear: profitability and sustainability go hand in hand. We can only lift our profitability long-term if we drive sustainability. Here, low-carbon solutions like our Reduxa® or Circal® solutions are key enablers. The latter offers material with a minimum content of 75% end-of-life scrap, which reduces the carbon footprint to 2.3 kg CO2 per kilogram of aluminum.

AI: What other innovations do you have in the pipeline for 2019 – 2020? Wagner: We are, of course, constantly working to improve our existing products, to develop new products with better properties or for new applications, as well as developing recycling-friendly alloys. Just to mention a few. Our reference alloy 1052B and our HPSplus surface treatment are setting the standards in the litho market. In foil, we are developing solutions for battery cathode foil for the use in Li-Ion-batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles. In automotive we have started to supply aluminum solutions for battery applications, such as the Audi e-tron. Here, we combine a high-strength 6xxx alloy with the ASI standard, combining solutions for e-mobility with the highest level of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. We also developed dedicated solutions for the so-called cans (containing the battery cells) in batteries for e-vehicles, where we will start series supply by end of this year, As you can see, sustainability plays an important role in our value offering. With aluminum products according to the ASI standard and the recently launched new sustainable brands REDUXA® and CIRCAL® we want to create a higher demand for more sustainable solutions. With CIRCAL we demonstrate that we are able to close loops. We are constantly striving to promote the circular economy. Aluminum and its recycling properties are the perfect solution to create those closed loops. And it showcases that it is possible to create value within a framework of sustainability.

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Mon. June 24th, 2024

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