The use of aluminum in the automotive sector is steadily accelerating with the drive to lower fuel costs and emissions. According to the Aluminum Association, compared with steel vehicles, a fleet of aluminum vehicles save the equivalent of 44 million tons of CO2 emissions.
As the demand increases and more automakers sign on for the lighter-weight fabrication, eastern Kentucky looks to be a new hub of supply. In April, Craig Bouchard, chairman and CEO of Braidy Industries Inc., met with Kentucky’s Gov. Matt Bevin to announce a project to build an aluminum rolling mill — designed to produce high-quality auto body sheet aluminum, plate and ultra-high strength alloys for the aerospace industry.
Ground breaking at the 370-acre site is planned for the first quarter of 2018. The $1.3 billion mill, planned for Greenup County, Kentucky, on the Ohio River, is adjacent to CSX railroad and Interstate 64, connecting the mill site to some of the nation’s largest auto-making customers.
Braidy’s objective is to become the most cost-effective manufacturer in its niche when the mill is completed in 2020.
“With no work rules and no union or environmental legacy, with our own port on the Ohio river, state-of-the-art machinery and efficient work flow process, we will be the most efficient and lowest cost sheet rolling mill in the world, ” says Bouchard. “By location, we are less than one day by truck to serve 70 percent of the U.S. auto making facilities. All of the above adds up to a 50 percent cash conversion cost advantage versus our four major competitors in North America.”
The mill will open with annual capacity of 370, 000 tons, producing series 5000, 6000 and 7000 aluminum sheet and plate products, and subsequently adding hundreds of highly skilled jobs and support services jobs to the Appalachian area.
According to the Aluminum Association, cars manufactured with aluminum are safer, and, “Pound for pound, aluminum can absorb twice the crash energy of mild steel.” Another plus for the material: Nearly 90 percent of automotive aluminum scrap — more than a half-million tons a year — is recovered and recycled. To place this in perspective: Recycling one ton of aluminum saves the energy equivalent of 21 barrels of oil.
Total aluminum content in autos is expected to grow from 397 pounds per vehicle in 2015 to 565 PPV by 2028, representing 16 percent of total vehicle weight, according to a survey of automakers conducted by Ducker Worldwide.
“As our automotive customers embrace a multi-material approach to new car and truck design, that directly translates to increased amounts of aluminum, ” says Heidi Brock, president and CEO of the Aluminum Association.
Text by Cara Clark