Strengthening the Global Production System for Aluminum Panels Contributing to Greater Automobile Fuel Economy
The automobile industry, given heightened market awareness of global environmental problems, believes that making automobile bodies lighter is critical for reducing emissions and improving fuel economy. Attention, therefore, has focused on aluminum, which has a specific gravity of only about one-third that of iron or copper. Demand for this lightweight material, for use in automobile body panels, came to around 500,000 tons in 2015 and is expected to grow to about 1.5 million tons by 2020.
Responding to this expected demand expansion, UACJ and Constellium NV, a major European manufacturer of aluminum products, established a joint venture, Constellium-UACJ ABS LLC, in the U.S. state of Kentucky in December 2014 to manufacture and sell aluminum materials for automobile body panels. Operations at the new company began in June 2016.
In addition, as aluminum is coming into greater and greater use not only for body panels but also as a material for structural and other components, we acquired a leading US manufacturer of aluminum products in March 2016. With the additional step of establishing UACJ Automotive Whitehall Industries, Inc., we have taken our first step in the establishment of a production system in North America.
By rapidly responding to growing needs, as discussed above, we will help to reduce the impacts of automobiles on the environment.
Examples of How Aluminum Is Used in Automobiles
Using Our Advanced Technical Capabilities to Support the Distribution of Energy
With CO2 emissions, from combustion, 20% to 40% lower than those of petroleum and coal, LNG (liquefied natural gas) has gained significant attention as an energy source with a low environmental burden. Shale gas, natural gas extracted from layers of shale hundreds of meters underground, is one source of gas that is processed into LNG. Thought to exist in massive quantities, and expected to be a highly economical fuel for generating electricity, shale gas is being viewed as a key energy resource going forward.
LNG is made by cooling gas to -162℃ to liquefy it. It is often transported by loading it onto tankers equipped with gigantic spherical tanks, each one of which has a diameter 40 meters and a capacity of 1,000 tons. These LNG tanks are made with aluminum plates at least 150 millimeters thick. For toughness and the ability to resist becoming brittle at extremely low temperatures, no metal is better than aluminum.
UACJ is the only company in Japan capable of making the enormous aluminum plates used to manufacture LNG tanks. Having the large-scale facilities and advanced technology required to do this work, we are proud to be able to contribute to the safe marine transport of clean energy.
Participation in a National Project for Better Fuel Economy in Transportation
Reducing the weight of automobile and train bodies, and airframes, is critical for achieving greater fuel efficiency in transportation. UACJ, as a participant in NEDO’s (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization) Research and Development Project for Innovative Structural Materials, is engaged in the development of new manufacturing technologies for aluminum, a material expected to play a significant role in achieving needed weight reductions.
The overall purpose of this project, which has the backing of the Japanese government, is to perform R&D on aluminum, titanium, magnesium, and other lightweight materials, and on joining technologies for these materials, with the ultimate goal of producing vastly lighter automobiles, aircraft, and railway cars. UACJ is leading the development of manufacturing processes for aluminum materials, which offer lower costs and higher performance than alternative materials.
Based on the judgment that existing aluminum manufacturing processes have reached their limits in terms of efficiency, we are conducting research aimed at the practical implementation of a new smelting method applying ionic liquids. This approach enables the room-temperature production of aluminum alloys, which include elements with high melting points. As such, it would eliminate the need for the enormous volumes of electricity traditional production processes need for heating. Through this research, we expect to be able to greatly contribute to efforts to lower the environmental impacts of transportation by reducing vehicle and aircraft weights.