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Metal Suppliers News

As providers of aluminium supplies it’s fascinating to see exciting new developments happening in the sector. Steel is also on the move, with innovations taking place left, right and centre despite the current slump in demand. Here’s the news, from our world to yours.

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Improved cathode could deliver double battery energy density

Aluminium Insider reports on the EU scientists who have made a dramatic breakthrough in aluminium battery construction. It looks like the new set-up will double battery energy density while also transforming the production process so it’s ‘significantly’ Greener.

The news, concerning a team of researchers from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden and the National Institute of Chemistry in Slovenia, is timely, as the business world finally starts to wake up to the risks of climate change.

The team discovered that using graphite as cathode isn’t particularly energy-efficient, making aluminium-ion batteries impractical for most people. But when they used anthraquinone instead, an organic material with a much higher energy content than pure graphite, they found that the storage of positive charge-carriers from the electrolyte allows a higher energy density battery.

Cheaper production costs and a smaller environmental impact should deliver significant energy savings in big photovoltaic and wind turbine plants. While commercial production remains a long way off, and the new batteries are currently just half as energy dense as lithium-ion versions, the discovery should bring aluminium batteries in line with lithium ion ones before long.

Hot metal suppliers UK news – CO2 reduction comes under the spotlight

The planet is warming fast. As reported by the Financial Times, the first UN Climate Summit in four years has just put aluminium production under scrutiny.

The metal has a bright future ahead of it as a member of a new low-CO2 economy, vital for electric vehicles, sustainable packaging and low-carbon construction. But much of the planet’s supplies are made using coal-fired electricity, which emits as much as 22 tonnes of carbon to one of the metal, and that is both unacceptable and unsustainable.

Some producers use hydropower, which emits less than four tonnes of CO2 per tonne of aluminium, and this is the point from which the entire industry must move forwards, with the aim of reducing the metal’s carbon footprint even further. The first step will involve much better transparency around CO2 emissions, and some are demanding that CO2 levels must be ‘clearly stated in any sale on the London Metal Exchange’.

The sector has been dragging its heels for a long time. Now’s the time to do the decent thing. En+ is asking the London Metals Exchange to disclose the carbon content of every trade made, and that’s a good start. Making a brand new global asset class in the City, one focused on Low Carbon Aluminium, should also help push innovation forwards.

Sadly, at the same time as the EU’s aluminium industry is getting ready to make expensive efforts to decarbonise, they’re getting snarled up in a trade war over Chinese dumping and US tariffs. Let’s hope it doesn’t slow down progress.

Nickel prices rocketing

Nickel prices have been on the up for a while, and in recent months the price hike has been significant. It means the input costs for many stainless steel producers have also risen dramatically, but so far producers have mostly been able to pass on the increases to customers.

The makers of the steel are having to take the increased costs on the chin, which is slashing profit margins in many cases and in others eliminating profits altogether. As surcharges keep on rising, user demand isn’t particularly high.

The planet has finite nickel resources and worries about future shortages have driven prices up. Nickel is widely used in batteries for electric vehicles and the threat of a ban on nickel ore exports by Indonesia isn’t helping.

Demand for steel is down

Demand for stainless steel is subdued at the moment thanks to the USA, whose trade actions have cut the volume of imports from China and Asia right back. Traditional stainless steel makers are struggling to cope with a worldwide excess of the metal, and EU steel mills are battling to beat Asian prices. One bright spot on the horizon for steel? Temporary relief may be on the cards since the EC Safeguarding quota tonnages for some products should run out before the current quota timescale ends.

Apple’s latest iPhone 11 Pro is made from stainless steel

Apparently the latest offering from the prestige tech brand Apple, the iPhone 11 Pro, is made from stainless steel. Launched recently in California, it’s the company’s most powerful mobile yet. The phone is more energy efficient, features better colour details, and the screen has similarities with the costly Mac Pro screen, christened the ‘Super Retina XDR’. Why ‘Pro’? It’s a marketing thing, designed to attract people who want the ‘best’.

SpaceX’s stainless steel Starship Rocket… revealed

At the end of September Elon Musk revealed his first steel prototype of a deep-space bound rocket. It is, allegedly, the most powerful rocket in history. At 200 tons in weight and 165 feet high, it contains three SpaceX’s next-generation ‘Raptor’ engines and is predicted to zoom up to 20 kilometres above the earth, where it’ll orbit for a couple of months before coming home.

Musk’s Falcon 1 rocket was the first private liquid-fuelled rocket to reach orbit, back in 2008, and he wants the new rocket to go up within the next six months. But that depends entirely on an exponential rate of development in the design and manufacturing process.

Musk says stainless steel has been “by far the best design decision” they’ve made, being heavier than carbon composite or aluminium-based materials but with an extremely high resistance to temperature changes. Cost is also a factor. Steel comes in at $2,500 a ton but carbon fibre costs a great deal more at $130,000 a ton.

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