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Metal Suppliers News

Our world is a place of dramatic highs and lows right now. As aluminium suppliers we’re pleased to see the industry cleaning up its act so quickly in the face of runaway climate change. As carbon steel suppliers we’re watching what’s happening to the British Steel sale, hoping all 4000 jobs can be saved, as well as keeping our eyes open for new innovations. Here’s the news.

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British Steel’s French factory up for sale separately

According to a report by the BBC, British Steel’s French factory, Hayange, is up for sale, but the sale is being made separately from the metal giant’s British operation. Odder still, it’s happening even though a Chinese firm has proposed a deal designed to save the entire company.

Jingye is happy to pay around £50m to take over British Steel and save the 4000 jobs that depend on its survival. While the French authorities have the power to prevent the sale, and may also have approved the ‘for sale’ adverts, the GMB union are concerned and will be ‘seeking assurances’ from Jingye that they want to maintain the business as a whole and not break it up.

The Union will, “also be seeking commitments from Jingye that their business plan is robust enough to withstand any proposed split and that there is no danger of the deal for the UK sites being scuppered, should the French government decide to withdraw their approval.” As reported by the Financial Times, Jingye executives “were furious” about the French move and have submitted a request to the French authorities for approval of their investment.

The reasoning behind the separate sale remains a mystery, although some believe it’s a kind of contingency measure just in case the Jingye acquisition falls through. France has a special interest in the plant since it makes steel for the state-owned railway network so is an important asset.

Apple buys the world’s first ever commercial batch of ‘green’ aluminium

Apple Inc has bought the world’s first commercial batch of carbon free aluminium from a joint venture created by two of the world’s biggest suppliers of the metal. Elysis is the Montreal-based joint venture between Alcoa Corp and Rio Tinto, who joined with Apple, the Canadian government and the authorities in Quebec to fund the initiative. The 100% carbon free metal will be shipped this month Pittsburgh, to be used in the manufacture of Apple products.

This is big news because aluminium production is naturally carbon intensive, involving sending electrical current through a huge block of carbon called an anode, which then burns off to create CO2. Aluminium has been made the same old way for over 120 years. The threat of runaway climate change and the resulting worldwide climate protests have finally driven innovation onwards.

By 2024 the Alcoa-Rio joint venture wants to commercialise the technology, which uses a ceramic anode that only emits oxygen, completely removing direct greenhouse gas emissions from the smelting process. It also looks like existing smelting facilities can be retrofitted to use the new tech. Better still the operating costs of greener aluminium are lower than those found in traditional aluminium smelting.

LME suggests a new market for ‘green’ aluminium

As reported by Reuters, the London Metal Exchange is thinking about creating a new market for so-called ‘green’ aluminium. They’re currently talking to the metals industry about supporting the transition to a low carbon economy, focusing on aluminium. And they want to ‘define a clear route forward on green aluminium’ by the new year, according to LME CEO Matt Chamberlain. It matters because electricity accounts for as much as 40% of the production costs for primary aluminium, and most of the metal is made in China, where electricity is often generated by coal-fired plants.

USA slaps steel and aluminium import tariffs on Brazil and Argentina

Donald Trump plans to add hefty tariffs to imported steel and aluminium from Brazil and Argentina, convinced that both countries are involved in ‘currency manipulation’. In Trump’s words, “Brazil and Argentina have been presiding over a massive devaluation of their currencies. Which is not good for our farmers.”

Argentina and Brazil have suffered serious currency problems in the past couple of years, with the Brazilian Real reaching a record low against the US dollar. This year it’s down almost 10% thanks to interest rate reductions, political tension and weaknesses in emerging markets. At the same time the Argentina Peso has lost just short of 60% of its value against the dollar during 2019 thanks to debt, populist politics and a jittery market.

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