More than ever before, the future of mobility is undergoing change. The now indisputable move away from fossil fuels is launching a sensible and necessary discussion. Here, all possible forms of mobility with different tasks and requirements must be taken into account. Always on the agenda: lightweight construction with aluminum materials.
The future of mobility
In principle, then, the aluminum industry can look forward to a bright future - if torn supply chains, energy and climate crises, and the looming effects of Russia's war of aggression did not cast their shadows. But the industry is equipped.
The entire global economy is currently on a test bed, where the parameters of the test have yet to be determined. Requirements can change on a daily basis. Experience from the Corona pandemic has shown how flexibly the European economy can react. However, even experts are currently not sure what the global economic impact of the Russian war of aggression will be. However, it is already clear that the consequences will be fatal.
There is widespread agreement that a rethink of the globalization trends that have been propagated for years is likely to be inevitable. New concepts for flexible mobility behavior must be convincing.
Many positive effects on industry
In order to realize these goals of a transport turnaround, aluminum producers and processors have to deal with disrupted supply chains, lack of availability and rising raw material and energy prices on a daily basis. But the companies are unanimous: quite certainly, the path taken toward electromobility will bring many positive effects to the aluminum industry. In the meantime, the light metal is even seen as a solution to many problems in the area of climate protection and the future of energy. These are clear signs that can have a positive impact on the application of the metal for the mobility of the future.
The entire industry is called upon to give this trend even more momentum. Aluminum can be used in a variety of ways, as castings, sheet or profiles. The aluminum industry is already acting accordingly. Investments in digitally controlled production facilities, research centers and projects for CO2 reduction as well as sustainable energy generation are shaping the industry. Aluminum is not only used in aircraft, cars and rail vehicles.
The universally applicable metal is suitable for a wide range of tasks related to electromobility. New markets are emerging, for example, in infrastructure: The technology from Swedish specialist ChargeNode allows several vehicles to share a central charging station, which automatically distributes the charging process according to parking time and charging requirements. The innovative solution consists of an aluminum housing with integrated charging sockets that can be mounted along parking spaces like a railing and supplies all parking spaces with electricity.
The consequence of new applications
A study by the International Aluminium Institute (IAI) in London shows that aluminum demand will increase by 33.3 million tons by 2030. While the figure was 86.2 million metric tons in 2020, it will rise to 119.5 million metric tons in eight years. The largest consumer market for this will remain the transportation sector with the growth driver "e-car".
Even if experts do not yet agree on where the electricity for the desired electromobility of the future will come from: There is no stopping the e-car. And a lot of aluminum is being used in it. It is taking on a key role in the field of electric vehicles. Estimates suggest that on average 75 kilograms more aluminum will be used in the new generations of e-vehicles than in conventional combustion engines. This has not only positive consequences for aluminum processors: the foundry industry, for example, assumes that the weight of the necessary castings in e-cars will fall by up to 55 percent. Nevertheless, foundrymen predict that the lightweighting trend will result in an increase in global demand for AL castings and that the industry as a whole will benefit from lightweighting and e-mobility.
Problem solver instead of parts manufacturer
Cooperation between automotive manufacturers, OEMs and the aluminum industry must change. The companies must grow from being classic suppliers of semi-finished products into the role of problem solvers. Only by working together will it be possible to achieve the significant cost reductions that will be necessary for significant market penetration. The subsidy phase, which is politically desired in many countries, will come to an end in the second half of the decade. Then efficient manufacturing systems and high volumes will have to keep production costs reasonable.
The prospects are good: Several factors have already played a major role in ensuring that the mediumsized light metal industry in particular will be able to cope well with an expected structural change with the changed requirements in the future. Forward-looking and flexible manufacturing technology, digitally controlled production planning, combined with fast and efficient processes, are not just consequences of the Corona pandemic. Here, companies have recognized that examples from other industries can serve as benchmarks. Tesla is a case in point: For a long time, major automotive groups smiled at the software-driven company's plans. Today, Elon Musk and his example of Tesla stand for a completely new approach to automobile production. His success is now undisputed and serves as a template for numerous start-ups that are doing well in the market.
Energy, environment and recycling
The prospects for the aluminum industry are much more problematic from the point of view of energy supply. As Dr. Hinrich Mählmann, president of Aluminium Deutschland (AD), notes, the industry is facing a tough test: "For us as an energy-intensive industry, the current development of electricity and gas prices is threatening. Some of the often medium-sized companies in the aluminum industry are being pushed to the edge of their existence as a result. The German and European aluminum industry is suffering." A look at production conditions in other parts of the world makes it clear that significantly worse environmental and climate standards are being applied there. "This is carbon leakage par excellence," laments Mählmann.
Nevertheless, the challenges associated with the Green Deal also give reason for hope. Aware that measures to save energy and resources are not only good for the environment and climate protection, but also have positive business consequences, industry has set out on the path to climate neutrality. The successes are demonstrable and exemplary: suppliers to the mobility industry rely on energy-efficient manufacturing, electricity generation from sustainable sources such as photovoltaics or hydropower. Strict recycling requirements in the companies ensure that not a single kilogram of aluminum is lost today.
Here, the industry is cleverly playing to the material's advantages. Because if the proportion of aluminum materials in vehicles, for example, increases, recyclability must also be ensured. Intensive research is also being carried out into new recycling processes to further reduce the carbon footprint of aluminum components. Often, "low-carbon" aluminum is advertised - meaning the carbon-reduced recycling process - for secondary aluminum. A completely new branch of industry has emerged here, which is intensively involved in sophisticated recycling processes for the aluminum industry.
Text: Alwin Schmitt