Metal supplies UK news digest – Developments in the metals world
Digital innovation helps make the aluminium smelting process more efficient, cheaper, safer and greener. Nissan creates an aluminium-rich, lighter, more efficient car at its Sunderland plant. A bottleneck in Malaysia means the EU and USA face ongoing shortages of aluminium. There are strong hints that greener steel could be on the way Down Under. And the price of iron is surging. Here’s the metals supply news.
Digital smelting twin supports better process analytics
As aluminium stockholders it’s great to hear about GE Digital, which has come up with innovative process analysis software called the Digital Smelter. It creates a digital twin of the aluminium smelting process, bringing fresh insights and guidance around how to maximise production while maintaining safety levels, slashing the cost of raw materials, and making the most of the energy used in the process.
It’s all part of a global shift in thinking that’s driving the digital transformation of aluminium smelters in the Middle East. The region already makes 8% of the world’s aluminium and the new software tool is set to drive higher productivity as well as improving plant uptime.
The Digital Smelter provides a detailed, comprehensive analysis of the components in a pot and does the same for individual pot lines. The tool also lets operators predict process and equipment anomalies better, then come up with the best solutions.
Nissan Sunderland goes greener with an aluminium car
The latest Nissan Qashqai will be partly made from aluminium in an effort to make the production process in Nissan’s Sunderland plant greener. It’s the first Nissan assembled from aluminium and follows a gigantic £52 million investment. As a result the hood, doors and front fenders of the new model will all be made from aluminium alloy, making the car’s body an impressive 60 kilos lighter.
Nissan has also created a new recycling facility to handle over seven tons of metal an hour, leading to less waste and a much greener production process. The hoods and doors are cut out of the metal, then the waste is removed and sent to be transformed into new aluminium alloy sheets before being sent back to Nissan. It’s a classic ‘closed loop’ recycling system that cuts both emissions and waste, and it’ll help the company reach its 2050 100% carbon neutrality goal.
Malaysian warehouse delays make aluminium shortages worse
Bottlenecks at warehouses in Malaysia registered n the London Metal Exchange and owned by metals storage firm ISTIM UK are adding to the current aluminium shortage crisis, which is affecting the metal’s buyers in the USA and EU. As an experienced aluminium stockist we’re keeping a careful eye on things.
Strong demand and low supplies of aluminium have sent US market prices to record levels and in the EU, prices are approaching their highest since Trump imposed sanctions on the Russian supplier Rusal in 2018. Right now there are growing queues at ISTIM’s Port Klang warehouses in Malaysia, thanks to numerous traders and banks all wanting to take delivery of the vast quantities of the metal they’ve secured for their clients.
Green steel comes closer to reality
Steel is used worldwide for a multitude of purposes, from cutlery to wind turbines. But it is often made using coal as fuel, and that’s a big climate change no-no. Around two tonnes of CO2 are emitted for every tonne of steel produced, accounting for about 7% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The truth is brutal – unless we clean up the steel production process, there’s no way we’ll reduce climate change.
Luckily ‘green steel’ is on the way, thanks to plans to use hydrogen instead of coal to fuel the process. And Australia is proving a trailblazer with its abundant, cheap wind and solar resources. Together they mean the country is perfectly placed to make the hydrogen needed by a green steel industry. Now all they need to do is act on the opportunity, and act fast.
Iron prices hit a nine year high
Iron prices are on the way up, having seen a dramatic surge that took them to a nine year high. The boom began in late 2020 and now it’s pushing up the cost of carbon for producers. So far the impact of rising prices on steel production margins has been offset by unusually high steel prices, which are expected to fall back later this year.
Steel production is very sensitive to carbon costs since blast furnaces and oxygen furnaces account for around 60% of the EU’s capacity for production. It’s highly carbon-intensive, which means emissions allowances have already become significant for producers. Every tonne of EU industrial carbon emissions has to be covered by these allowances, and around 80% of them are currently allocated at no cost. Producers need to buy allowances via the ETS to cover the remainder.
The cost of carbon has doubled in the last year. An increased carbon emission allowance cost might impact EU steelmakers’ profits when the price of the metal normalises, and because the EU is due to revise ETS pricing in June we’re likely to see more increases in carbon prices. A reduction in the percentage of free carbon allowances is also affecting prices, as has the unusually cold weather we saw recently, which boosted demand for power.
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