As the world continues to evolve, so does the requirement for materials that drive progress and innovation. In this article, Tom Jones, ALFED’s chief executive officer (pictured) discusses why aluminium has already emerged as ‘the’ key strategic metal and analyses some of the key sectors that it’s driving forward.

ALFED members know, and I’ve said it before many times, aluminium is absolutely key to change for the future. Alongside other key industries, we can help combat the global climate crisis and drive forward the transition to Net Zero.

I agreed whole-heartedly with Professor Geoff Scamans from Innoval when he said recently that “The UK needs to relinquish its position as the leading exporter of aluminium scrap in Europe and change to using all this low carbon aluminium in the UK”. Aluminium’s strategic value to future innovation across multiple sectors means that we should be investing in aluminium production and recycling facilities here in the UK to allow us to play our part in the growing demand for the product.

Aluminium – The strategic metal shaping future sector developments - The Aluminium Federation

The spotlight on sustainability

In recent years, sustainability has become a global imperative and naturally it formed a key part of ALFED’s recent strategy day. Aluminium holds a key strategic position in supporting the sustainability agenda and with almost 75% of all aluminium ever produced still in use today, it’s no surprise that its recyclability is an important property. The use of secondary aluminium not only reduces waste, but also significantly reduces energy expenditure during the manufacturing process.

With the market demand for sustainable materials continuing to increase, the aluminium industry is well-positioned to capitalise on the opportunities. The versatility of aluminium as a material makes it favourable across a number of industries. For example, automotive manufacturers benefit from its lightweight nature and strength, while the construction industry favours it for its durability, particularly its natural corrosion resistance.

Versatility and durability

As the mobility industry goes through a period of notable change, the aluminium industry is presented with a significant opportunity.
The rapid expansion of the electric vehicle (EV) market, alongside the governments push for cleaner transportation alternatives, means that automotive manufacturers are increasingly turning to aluminium to address a series of EV design challenges. By incorporating aluminium into the manufacturing process, manufacturers are able to navigate challenges relating to weight, extending a vehicle’s range and enhancing the overall performance.

Furthermore, aluminium’s superior thermal conductivity makes it ideal for cooling EV batteries, ensuring optimal performance and longevity. Due to these key advantages the demand for aluminium in the EV sector is set to soar, creating significant opportunities for manufacturers, suppliers, and investors alike.

Similarly, the aerospace industry is facing the challenge of becoming more sustainable, while also continuing to meet the demands of the industry. From aircraft frames and wings to fuselages and interior components, aluminium has been a trusted material within the industry for several decades, favoured for its high strength-to-weight ratio.

As the market continues to develop, aluminium stays the forefront of these advancements, playing a pivotal role in the development of next-generation aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 – instrumental in enhancing fuel efficiency and optimising performance.

But it’s not just manufacturing where sustainability is having an impact. In an era when convenience, consumer demand and environmental concerns intersect, the packaging industry is looking towards innovative solutions to help improve their sustainability credentials.

As consumers are increasingly gravitating towards eco-friendly options, aluminium finds itself particularly well placed to take advantage of the switch. Not only does the recyclability of aluminium packaging significantly reduces the environmental impact of consumer waste, but its exceptional barrier properties provide a reliable shield against oxygen, moisture and light – making in an ideal choice for food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries, among others.

The modern strategic metal

Aluminium’s status as ‘the’ strategic metal is solidified by its versatility, sustainability, and contributions to key industries. The market developments outlined demonstrate how aluminium is shaping the future across different sectors. From electric vehicles to packaging innovations and aerospace advancements, aluminium’s unique properties and eco-friendly nature make it an indispensable material in our quest for a more sustainable future.

Aluminium is leading the way for other metals to follow the “primary” recycling route where end-of-life aluminium is returned at the same use level and not down-cycled into less demanding application by “secondary recycling,” as is the case for most steel in high performing applications.

ALFED and our members are proud to witness and play a key part in the continued remarkable journey of aluminium and its ever-increasing and strategic role in driving future innovation.

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