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Aluminum industry players accelerate move to lower carbon footprint

Although originally borrowed from a book of the same name, some call Australia the “Lucky Country.”  Blessed with resource abundance, a warm climate and decades of near uninterrupted…

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Although originally borrowed from a book of the same name, some call Australia the “Lucky Country.”  Blessed with resource abundance, a warm climate and decades of near uninterrupted growth, it certainly seems to have it all.

But it isn’t alone.

For decades, industrialized countries have looked at the Middle East’s oil wealth with some degree of envy. Those countries have also looked on with a little irritation, particularly when OPEC artificially engineers oil price rises to reap huge financial rewards for member states.

The United Arab Emirates seems to have the best of both vast oil wealth and the nous (to use the British slang) to invest the proceeds, not just in palaces and Rolls Royce cars but in infrastructure, education and diversified industrial development.

As the world potentially approaches peak oil — how many times have we heard that over the decades? — the UAE is already beginning to exploit its other near endless resource: sunlight.

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Carbon-free aluminum

The output from its 1 GW Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park — or, at least, 560,000 megawatt-hours of its output — will feed the Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA) smelter.

That’s enough power, The Driven reports, to produce some 40,000 tons of carbon-free aluminum.

Originally based on low-cost, natural-gas-powered electricity, the UAE can now neatly transition its aluminum smelters into the future of renewable power.

‘Carbon-free’ aluminum in the automotive sector

Better still, EGA can get a premium price for its “carbon-free” aluminum. Buyers like BMW are keen to source low-carbon raw materials to lower the environmental impact of their cars. As such, buyers can both meet regulatory targets and enhance their brand image.

While far from alone, BMW have been at the forefront of lowering the lifecycle environmental impact of their products for years.

The automaker has increased the number of parts that can be recycled. It has also reduced the carbon content of the materials that go into its vehicles.

The Driven reports the German automaker has signed a deal sourcing 43,000 tons of this solar aluminium. That’s enough to supply nearly half the annual requirements of the company’s light metal foundry at Plant Landshut.

This is just part of BMW’s larger plan to reduce the company’s CO2 emissions across its supplier network by 20% by 2030. The new solar-powered aluminum will help BMW avoid 2.5 million tons of CO2 emissions over the next 10 years.

Rusal making the transition to low-carbon aluminum

Of course, EGA is not alone in developing ultra-low-carbon aluminum.

Russia’s Rusal has also been pushing the concept for some years. The Russian firm has migrated all its old coal-fired power sources to hydro power to achieve one of the lowest carbon footprints in the industry.

Such low-carbon aluminum products — from hydro or solar — are not carbon-free. They still contain a carbon load from other parts of the production process, like carbon anode consumption. However, their carbon content is vastly lower than aluminum produced using coal (as is the case in much of China).

The state of Chinese aluminum production

China has delivered the world’s highest rollout of renewable energy for many years. This is particularly true for wind and hydro.

The country, however, still faces a monumental challenge in migrating its aluminum industry from coal-fired power to greener alternatives. The country must do this to meet Beijing’s own environmental targets. In addition, it has to so its aluminum industry does not fall behind in the premium, low-carbon primary aluminum market that will evolve over the first half of this decade.

According to Reuters, China will need to shut around 47 gigawatts of inefficient, subcritical coal power capacity dedicated for aluminum over the next 10 years or so if it wants to achieve Beijing’s target of being carbon-neutral by mid-century.

China’s aluminum industry last year emitted more C02 than some entire countries, including Indonesia and Brazil. Some 65% of the power coming from off-grid captive power plants were built specifically for the adjacent smelter.

There has been a migration of new capacity to China’s southwest province of Yunnan in search of hydropower. However, most of these captive power plants use coal.

At least for state-owned Chinese smelters, there will no doubt be financial incentives to either move or source power more sustainably.

Meanwhile, for the private sector, the commitment will have to be spread over a longer time frame.

Meeting targets

The top private-sector producer, China Hongqiao Group, alone has 17GW of coal-fired power production. That accounts for a third of the industry’s total capacity in Shandong province.

On top of Beijing’s decarbonization targets, the industry now has the added incentive of meeting the demand from more environmentally conscious end users. Those end users include the automotive and consumer goods industries.

That is a challenge Beijing will have to address if it’s to avoid its output falling to second best.

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Automotive

This Morning in Metals: February US auto sales forecast to rise 3.3%

This morning in metals news: J.D. Power and LMC Automotive released their joint forecast on February US auto sales; meanwhile, US steel imports fell by 23% in January; and, lastly, Ford’s CEO…

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This morning in metals news: J.D. Power and LMC Automotive released their joint forecast on February US auto sales; meanwhile, US steel imports fell by 23% in January; and, lastly, Ford’s CEO urged the US government to support the implementation of electric vehicle applications.

February US auto sales forecast to rise

New-vehicle retail sales in February are forecast to rise by 3.3% when adjusted for selling days, LMC Automotive and J.D. Power said.

“Despite challenges posed by inclement weather in most of the country, retail sales demand continues to be strong with the industry posting a second consecutive month of year-over-year gains,” said Thomas King, president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power.

Meanwhile, the average manufacturer incentive is down. According to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive, the average incentive is on pace to be $3,562 per vehicle, or down $614 from a year ago.

Furthermore, as incentives decline, average transaction prices are going up. Per the report, the forecast calls for the average transaction price to rise 9.8% to $37,524, a February record.

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Steel imports drop 23%

US steel imports dropped 23% in January on a year-over-year basis, the American Iron and Steel Institute reported.

January imports totaled 2.42 million net tons. However, January imports jumped 62.2% from the previous month.

In addition, steel import market share reached an estimated 15% in January, the AISI added.

Ford CEO urges government to step in on EVs

Ford CEO Jim Farley on Wednesday urged the US government to step in and promote battery production and EV charging infrastructure, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at securing several critical supply chains. Among the critical products targeted are semiconductors, which have automotive applications.

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Automotive

Japan’s Kosei taps Rusal for new aluminum supply deal

One of the world’s leading producers of low-carbon aluminum, UC Rusal, announced a new collaboration with Japanese automotive component manufacturer Kosei, signifying yet another step in its over…

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One of the world’s leading producers of low-carbon aluminum, UC Rusal, announced a new collaboration with Japanese automotive component manufacturer Kosei, signifying yet another step in its over 30-year journey.

Last week, the Russian aluminum giant Rusal said Kosei had selected it to be its global supplier of high-quality aluminum alloys.

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Rusal-Kosei aluminum supply deal

Kosei, set up in 1950, designs and manufactures vehicle wheels and autoparts. The firm operates from seven countries.

In the last 30 years, Rusal has proved to be a key partner of Kosei. Rusal has supplied the Japanese company with primary foundry aluminum alloys. Kosei uses in the material in factories in to India, Japan, Thailand, and the US.

As part of the new deal, Rusal will be selling its proprietary low-carbon aluminum “ALLOW” to Kosei. ALLOW is a low emitting aluminum, pushing out about 2.4 metric tons of CO2 per metric ton of metal smelted. Meanwhile, that compares to the industry standard of about 12 metric tons of CO2 per metric ton of aluminum.

In fact, just last year, Rusal joined the Japan Climate Leaders’ Partnership (JCLP), a coalition of businesses seeking to advance the goals of decarbonization and sustainable business.

JCLP has 163 member companies, contributing to its stipulated aim of a carbon-free future.

End uses

The “green” metal ALLOW is used to produce wheels and other auto components for global brands like Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Suzuki, to name a few.

Kosei President Shunkichi Kamiya, in a press release announcing the aluminum supply deal between the two companies, pointed out the two companies have a long-running supply relationship. He added he hoped the partnership with Rusal would continue for many years in the future.

Bullish future

Rusal has been quite bullish on the future of aluminum during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It recently said demand for the metal is on a path of recovery, despite the pandemic.

Rusal recently announced its intent to acquire the business and assets of the Aluminium Rheinfelden GmbH, bring it out of insolvency. With the move, Rusal indicated aims to complement its global scale, low-carbon aluminum production with Aluminium Rheinfelden’s niche product focus. Aluminium Rheinfelden manufactures aluminum alloys, semis and carbon-based components. Furthermore, the German firm is a major supplier to the global automotive industry.

In addition, the German firm also owns over 70 patents in the automotive sector. As such, the acquisition by Rusal will help reinforce its position as a major global provider of automotive aluminum.

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This Morning in Metals: US industrial production up 0.9% in January

This morning in metals news: US industrial production picked up in January; global aluminum output also rose in January; and, lastly, General Motors reported a milestone in the construction of a new…

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This morning in metals news: US industrial production picked up in January; global aluminum output also rose in January; and, lastly, General Motors reported a milestone in the construction of a new battery cell manufacturing plant in northeast Ohio.

US industrial production rises

US industrial production rose by 0.9% in January, the Federal Reserve reported.

Furthermore, manufacturing output rose by 1.0%. Meanwhile, mining output picked up by 2.3%.

Industrial sector capacity utilization reached 75.6%, up by 0.7 percentage point. The rate, however, is down 4.0% from the long-run average from 1972-2020.

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Aluminum output picks up

Global aluminum production totaled 5.71 million tons in January, the International Aluminum Institute reported this week.

Furthermore, the total marked an increase from 5.47 million tons in January 2020.

Meanwhile, China’s output reached an estimated 3.3 million tons, up from 3.09 million tons in January 2020.

Elsewhere, production in Western Europe reached 285,000 tons, up from 284,000 tons. In addition, Eastern and Central European production fell by 3,000 tons to 353,000 tons.

After trending sideways to down in January, the aluminum price has picked back up this month, as the LME three-month aluminum price closed Monday at $2,161 per metric ton, or up 9.39% from a month ago.

General Motors hails battery cell plant milestone

Ultium Cells LLC is a joint venture of General Motors and South Korea’s LG Chem.

The joint venture will produce Ultium battery cells at a new 2.8-million-square-foot facility in Lordstown, Ohio. General Motors reported ironworkers at the construction site installed the final beam at the site.

“Ultium Cells, a joint venture between General Motors and LG Chem, will mass-produce Ultium battery cells at the facility to advance the push for a zero-emissions, all-electric future,” GM said Feb. 19. “GM and LG Chem are investing $2.3 billion in the facility to support EV manufacturing in the U.S., and in turn, local jobs, education, career training and infrastructure.”

In addition, GM said the plant is slated for completion in 2022.

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