Austria’s Voestalpine AG is Fusing Steel With Aluminum for Automotive Use

An Austrian steelmaker has found a way to fuse strips of steel and aluminum alloys in what could be part of a historic breakthrough.

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“They taught us in engineering school this was impossible,” Alois Leitner, who works for Linz-based Voestalpine AG which is Europe’s third-biggest steelmaker, told the Wall Street Journal.

Leitner’s work in a small lab on the outskirts of this industrial town near the Czech border seems simple enough—but these two basic metals are famously incompatible. Solving the riddle of how to combine them has long been considered a Holy Grail for big metals and auto companies.

Voestalpine’s process is neither easy nor cheap. The company uses a special solder and torches just hot enough to melt aluminum but not steel. The process, called cold metal transfer, employs an argon gas to avoid oxidation. Finally, the steel is coated with zinc to bind the steel, solder and aluminum.

The payoff for Voestalpine is potentially huge.

Under Chief Executive Wolfgang Eder, Voestalpine has developed an automotive niche market with BMW AG, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen AG, which owns Audi, Seat, Porsche and Bentley. “We are not competitive in commodity steel in a high-cost country like Austria,” Eder said in an interview. “We need to focus on high tech.”

The aluminum cash price closed as the biggest mover for Monday, February 9. Switching from a downward trend, the metal closed at $1,871 per metric ton following a 1.2% increase. The 3-month price of aluminum rose 1.2% on the LME to $1,884 per metric ton after a two-day drop. The cash price of primary Indian aluminum weakened by 0.1%, settling at INR 116.85 ($1.89) per kilogram.

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Chinese aluminum closed mixed on Monday. The cash price of Chinese aluminum saw a 0.4% decline to CNY 13,070 ($2,094) per metric ton. Chinese aluminum bar finished the day down 0.4% to CNY 13,080 ($2,096) per metric ton. Chinese aluminum scrap stayed flat at around CNY 12,600 ($2,019) per metric ton. The price of Chinese aluminum billet was unchanged at CNY 13,200 ($2,115) per metric ton.

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