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Automotive: the fastest sector for Novelis

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For many of us, Novelis is best known as a manufacturer of aluminium sheet for cans and as a result, the major buyer of used cans for recycling.

But it is the automotive sector that is actually the global aluminium company’s biggest growth area.

As revealed in its recent Sustainability Report, Novelis expects demand for its products to grow by more than 30 per cent by 2017.

While demand for aluminium for cans is likely to grow by 4 to 5 per cent in the same time period, and specialities such as electronics by 6 per cent, automotive aluminium demand will increase by around 25 per cent.

“Automotive is our fastest growing global market,” says Novelis vice president and general manager automotive Europe Roland Harings.

“It is a great opportunity for Novelis,” he adds. “Making vehicles more lightweight is a key target for reducing emissions for the vehicle manufacturers, and aluminium is one of the best ways to reduce the weight of vehicles and meet the needs of modern cars.

“Around the world we are seeing this with regulation on reducing emissions in Europe, US and Asia. This is making the vehicle manufacturers think more and more about how they can reduce emissions and aluminium is seen as a key way to do this because of its light weight and strength compared to other metals.”

Novelis is the leading supplier of aluminium sheet to the automotive sector in the world and its aluminium is already found in 180 different models. It is used for bumpers and door handles on some vehicles to fully aluminium cars from companies such as Jaguar Land Rover.

Indeed, in the UK, Novelis works with Jaguar Land Rover to recycle the manufacturing waste aluminium from its factories in Solihull, Castle Bromwich and Liverpool.

At present, it is mostly luxury cars that are using full aluminium bodies, but Roland Harings expects that vehicles in all budget ranges will use more and more aluminium over the coming years.

“New technologies often enter in the upper segment of the automotive sector,” he says. “But we are seeing more manufacturers willing to pay for aluminium over steel in the mass market because it is much lighter.

“An increasing amount of hang-on parts are now made of aluminium and in Europe we now have 25 per cent of vehicles made with aluminium hoods for example.”

Although fundamentally the same as the aluminium used in cans, automotive aluminium requires use of certain alloys and heat processes to give it the performance and resilience characteristics required for use in cars and other vehicles.

But it remains fully recyclable and Novelis is developing closed loop recycling schemes to ensure this metal can be recovered and returned back into the manufacturing stream once a vehicle reaches the end of its life. However, it requires different processes and must be kept separate from the aluminium can and electronics recycling stream to avoid contamination.

Novelis has a goal that by 2020 the aluminium sheet it sells on the market will contain 80 per cent recycled aluminium.

As a result, the company has made significant investments into its recycling capability for automotive recycling.

Novelis aluminium coilsSince 2011, Novelis has invested $1.5 billion (£860 million) in new recycling capacity with much of this for recycling scrap from the automotive sector.

For example, it has a circa 400,000 tonne per annum new recycling plant due to open in Nachterstedt in Germany in 2014, and another 65,000 tonnes of recycling capacity is being added to its existing plant at Latchford near Warrington in the UK.

In Brazil 190,000 tonnes of recycling capacity is being added and 265,000 tonnes of recycling capacity was completed in October 2012 at its Yeongju facility in South Korea.

For its automotive finishing plants, its facility at Oswego, New York was commissioned in October and adds 240,000 tonnes of automotive aluminium sheet available for manufacturers.

It is also constructing a new plant in Changzhou, China that will have a 120,000 tonne capacity. In Göttingen, Germany, it is producing 20,000 tonnes of automotive sheet with a second phase due to double this.

“Using recycled aluminium is more challenging that using virgin metal as we are supplying high performance components,” says Roland Harings. “We need to be more sophisticated in terms of how we sort materials so that manufacturers such as Novelis get the best quality material available.

“The benefits of using recycled aluminium rather than virgin are really important because recycling aluminium uses 5 per cent of the energy of extracting virgin material.

“We get good quality scrap from our customer base through using manufacturing off-cuts and the best source of material is from our customers.

“As part of the development of our recycling facility in Germany, we have invested in sorting and separating technologies so that we can use a wider range of aluminium scrap, and ensure that this material isn’t exported to Asia but is kept in Europe to be used by automotive manufacturers here.”

If he has a final message, it is that aluminium use by the automotive manufacturers is growing fast and Novelis is working with its automotive customers to develop cradle-to-cradle solutions for aluminium use.

“Recycling sometimes has a reputation of being lesser quality and lesser performance,” he adds. “But what we are doing comes without any downside and we have to ensure that the aluminium we provide meets the high performance criteria of car manufacturers.

“This material has the capability to be endlessly recycled, but we must ensure that systems are put in place so that we get it back in the quality and quantity we need.”

Category: Recycling
Recycling UKHanicke Robins Sanderson