Alcoa Details Revolutionary ‘Micromill’ Automotive Aluminum Sheet Process

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Alcoa on Thursday announced what it described as a revolutionary breakthrough in its campaign to replace steel in cars with aluminum, unveiling a process that in minutes converts molten aluminum into sheet metal that is lighter and stronger and has wider applications than existing aluminum.

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The company said it has conducted successful customer trials with metals produced from the process, which it is calling Micromill. The tests were done at a pilot plant in San Antonio. Alcoa told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette it is qualifying the material for use in the next generation of automotive designs.

“It will allow our customers to redefine the boundaries of vehicle design, supporting the creation of lighter, more fuel-efficient, safer and more stylish vehicles,” Alcoa chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld said in a prepared statement.

Micromill aluminum is 30% stronger and 40% easier to bend into intricate forms than aluminum sheet currently provided to the automotive market, the company said. Alcoa said the new product is 30% lighter than comparable parts made with high-strength steels.

The improved ability to form the new aluminum makes it possible to use it in the inside panels of doors, external fenders and other car parts that aluminum previously could not be used for, Alcoa said.

Micromill can be made at a plant that is one-quarter the size of a traditional mill using 50% less energy, the company said. The process reduces the time it takes to convert molten metal into aluminum sheet from 20 days to 20 minutes, Alcoa said.

The aluminum cash price saw the biggest decline of the day, dropping 2.4% on the LME to close at $1,966 per metric ton on Thursday, December 4. On the LME, the aluminum 3-month price fell 1.8% to $1,966 per metric ton. After a 0.5% increase, the Indian aluminum cash price finished the day at INR 123.55 ($2.00) per kilogram.

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Chinese aluminum prices were mixed for the day. The Chinese aluminum cash price rose 0.7% to CNY 13,450 ($2,187) per metric ton. Chinese aluminum bar gained 0.7% to finish at CNY 14,440 ($2,348) per metric ton. Chinese aluminum scrap stayed flat at around CNY 12,600 ($2,049) per metric ton. The price of Chinese aluminum billet held steady at CNY 13,700 ($2,228) per metric ton.

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