Articles in Category: Product Developments

The Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) presented results of a new study on steel’s lightweighting capabilities during the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday, Feb. 8, at McCormick Place in Chicago. Photo by Fouad Egbaria

Use of aluminum in automotive bodies has gained steam in recent years — and the metal’s rivalry with steel has heated up in the process.

Need buying strategies for steel? Try two free months of MetalMiner’s Outlook

For example, Ford Motor Co. shook up the marketplace when it announced its all-aluminum body F-150 2015 model. Aluminum, despite being more costly than steel, is lauded for its lighter weight and, thus, ability to provide better fuel economy.

Not so fast on that front, according to a study presented by the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) on Thursday, Feb. 8, during the annual Chicago Auto Show.

SMDI, a business arm of the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), presented results of a study that concludes steel is a superior option to aluminum when it comes to lightweighting and curbing environmental impacts.

Tom Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute. Photo by Fouad Egbaria

Tom Gibson, president and CEO of AISI (and president of SMDI), touted the more than 60 steel-intensive vehicles debuted in the last year at auto shows in Detroit, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

“Steel continues to play an integral role in new vehicle debuts,” Gibson said. “In the last month, we’ve seen the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado, Ford Ranger, all-new Ram 1500, Toyota Avalon, Honda Accord and Kia Forte, all touting the benefits of advanced, high-strength steels.

“With the mix of materials available to designers and engineers today, no other material provides the complete package steel provides with performance, value and innovation, as well as being the most environmentally sound material for automakers and consumers.”

Jody Hall, vice president, automotive market, of SMDI, presented the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study findings, comparing steel with aluminum. The LCA study tested five different vehicles and went through a 10-month review, Hall said, and was validated by a “panel of experts” from Harvard University, Argonne National Laboratory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and consultancy firm thinkstep.

“The bottom line is, the result of this expert-validated study shows for the vehicles studied, lightweighting with advanced, high-strength steel produces lower greenhouse gas emissions than lightweighting with aluminum,” Hall said. “The difference comes, primarily, from the material production phase emissions of advanced high-strength steel and aluminum. These are emissions not captured when focusing only on tailpipe emissions under current EPA regulations.”

Hall further emphasized the case for steel, saying that if one lightweighted the five vehicles in the study with aluminum instead of steel, “the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions increase is estimated at 12 million tons of CO2 emissions. That’s the equivalent of the amount of electricity used to power 1.6 million homes.”

More details on the study, titled “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas and Energy Study of Automotive Lightweighting,” and its methodology can be found at

AK Steel CEO Roger Newport. Photo by Fouad Egbaria

During the presentation, AK Steel CEO Roger Newport also delivered some comments on the state of the steel industry vis-a-vis the automotive world. Newport said steel has evolved to meet changing consumer demands in recent decades, and noted there’s been a “remarkable change” in the importance of materials when it comes to automotive construction.

“Materials are front and center,” he said.

It remains to be seen how much market share aluminum can capture. In the meantime, the steel industry will no doubt continue to tout its virtues compared with aluminum.

“The SMDI along with AK Steel are very excited about the potential of new, innovative steel products,” Newport said. “We continue our efforts to support the changes in the automotive world.”

Odds and Ends from Day 1 at the Auto Show

A few other miscellaneous notes from the first day of the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday, Feb. 8:

Subaru Presents 50th Anniversary Lineup

Subaru presented its 50th anniversary lineup, composed of nine vehicles, during

Subaru’s 50th anniversary lineup of vehicles. Photo by Fouad Egbaria

an unveiling ceremony. Tom Doll, president and chief operating officer of Subaru of America, Inc., touted the automaker’s growth since 2008, a period during which its market share rose from 1.4% to 3.8%, he said, and has seen it become the seventh-best selling brand in the industry.

“We’re not that small, fledgling little car company anymore,” Doll said.

Production quantities will be limited to 1,050 for Crosstrek, Forester, Impreza, Legacy and Outback, while WRX, STI and BRZ will have a combined total of 1,050, according to a Subaru release.

Kia Stinger Wins MotorWeek’s Best of the Year Award

Thursday afternoon at the Grand Concourse media stage, MotorWeek presented its Best of the Year award, which this year went to the Kia Stinger.

MotorWeek’s John Davis (left) presents Michael Sprague, chief operating officer of Kia Motors America, with the publication’s Best of the Year award for the Kia Stinger. Photo by Fouad Egbaria

MotorWeek host and creator John Davis said they try to pick a vehicle each year that captures “that moment in the automotive landscape,” in addition to, simply, being fun to drive.

“Our Best of the Year for 2018 really is the perfect definition of our award,” Davis said. “It’s a lot of fun to drive but moreover it is the result of a brand setting and achieving a new bar of prowess that is on par with the world’s best.”

The vehicle has a 3.3-liter twin turbo V6, an 8-speed automatic transmission and available performance-oriented all-wheel-drive system.

Michael Sprague, chief operating officer of Kia Motors America, accepted the award from Davis.

“It was introduced back in 2011 at the Frankfort Auto Show as a concept vehicle,” Sprague said. “Many people here in the audience told us ‘you have to build this car.'”

Klairmont Kollections Brings Retro Vibe

You won’t see too many cars like these on the streets today, but Klairmont Kollections took drivers down memory lane during its first ride as an exhibitor at the Chicago Auto Show.

Photo by Fouad Egbaria

Want to see an Aluminum Price forecast? Take a free trial!

The collection of unique vehicles, some dating back to the early 1900s, is based in Chicago and owned by World War II veteran and Highland Park, Illinois resident Larry Klairmont.

gui yong nian/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, China is aiming to meet its 2020 goal for steel capacity cuts this year, a new bottle technology makes aluminum bottles feel like plastic and copper output in the Democratic Republic of Congo rose significantly in 2017.

Need buying strategies for steel? Try two free months of MetalMiner’s Outlook

Chinese Government Looks to Hit Capacity Cuts Two Years Early

The Chinese government plans to reach its previously set 2020 goals for steel capacity reduction this year, Reuters reported.

According to the report, the government plan called for the reduction of 150 million tons of steel capacity by 2020.

An Aluminum Bottle that Feels Like Plastic?

According to a report in Packaging World, one company has been working on a bottle innovation for about a decade that will produce aluminum bottles with the feel of plastic.

Betty Jean Pilon, president of Montebello Packaging, explained the company’s Ushape blow-molded bottle technology during The Packaging Conference, held Feb. 5-7 in Orlando, Florida.

“We know that Canada, the United States, China, and Brazil are the largest beverage markets in the world,” Pilon was quoted as saying. “They singlehandedly produce 100 billion bottles each year. The Europeans consume about 63 billion, the South Americans about 32 billion, and the rest of the world, approximately 20 billion. So that’s why we got into it.”

Congo Copper Output Up 6.9% in 2017

Copper output in the Democratic Republic of Congo shot up 6.9% in 2017, Reuters reported.

Want to see an Aluminum Price forecast? Take a free trial!

The country produced 1.09 million tons of copper last year, according to the report, while its cobalt output rose 15.5% to 73,940 tons.

Zerophoto/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, Indian crude steel production jumped 6.2% in 2017, a Swiss steel firm was chosen to buy a troubled French steelmaker and Novelis announced that its aluminum will be supplied for the 2018 Jeep Wrangler.

Need buying strategies for steel? Try two free months of MetalMiner’s Outlook

Indian Crude Steel Production Rises

India saw its crude steel production jump 6.2% in 2017, according to the World Steel Association’s recent report.

Indian production hit 101.4 million tons, the Economic Times reported.

Schmolz+Bickenbach to Buy Ascometal

A Strabourg court tapped Swiss firm Schmolz+Bickenbach to buy French steelmaker Ascometal, Reuters reported.

The Swiss firm won out over a bid from Liberty House, according to the report. Ascometal filed for court protection in November, Reuters reported.

Novelis Aluminum in the New Jeep Wrangler

Novelis announced today that its aluminum will be supplied for the new 2018 Jeep Wrangler.

“Novelis is proud to offer our unrivaled production capabilities and extensive technical expertise to one of the world’s most iconic vehicles,” said Marco Palmieri, SVP and president of Novelis North America, in a company release. “We work alongside our customers from program development to launch to meet the industry’s evolving needs.”

Although aluminum is more expensive than steel, its lighter weight offers higher fuel economy. As such, several automakers, including Ford, have turned to aluminum for some of their newer models.

Want to see an Aluminum Price forecast? Take a free trial!

“Novelis aluminum offers a safe, sustainable and cost-effective way to lightweight vehicles,” said Ganesh Panneer, vice president and general manager of Novelis North America’s automotive division, in the company release. “Automotive aluminum applications result in better performance and agility, increased fuel economy and reduced carbon emissions.”

Coca Cola’s new lineup of Diet Coke flavors. Source: The Coca-Cola Company Image Library

In two weeks, Diet Coke is introducing four new flavors: Ginger Lime, Feisty Cherry, Zesty Blood Orange and Twisted Mango. They will come in a skinnier silver can, reminiscent of Red Bull’s popular caffeinated hit, and, it is hoped, will reinvigorate Coke’s fortunes by appealing to a younger, millennial buyer, CNN Money reports.

Buying Aluminum in 2018? Download MetalMiner’s free annual price outlook

The soft drinks market has been on the decline. According to the research group Cowen, diet soda sales fell 2% in the last three months of 2017.

The brand leaders, though, are falling faster.

Diet Coke sales fell by 4% and Diet Pepsi by 8%, while sales of the National Beverage Corp.’s LaCroix improved 43% in the sparkling and still flavored water category, as buyers switch not just to water but non-additive, more health-focused drinks. Diet Coke’s new offerings will be sold in slimmer tins, but the 12-ounce volume format remains the same – they will just rattle around irritatingly in your car cup-holder.

The move to slimmer cans is done for more profound reasons than just annoying me on long car journeys. The slimmer shape mimicks the younger image of successful brands like Red Bull — at least, that is Coke’s reasoning — but there may be a further advantage.

The slimmer cans give the impression of containing less fluid and research reported in the Washington Post suggests that may actually boost sales. David Just, a professor of behavioral economics at Cornell University, is quoted as saying their research performed over the years shows that people are incredibly responsive to labels. For example, participants, having been told that the food put in front of them was “double-size,” left 10 times as much food on their plates as those who were told their serving was “regular,” even though both groups were given the exact same amount of food.

The opposite, Just says, happens when servings are labelled as small. If products are marketed as minis, or are presented in a way that suggests they are somehow less, they can actually increase consumption.”

Much will depend, of course, on whether the new flavors find favor with consumers. Anecdotal evidence suggests they may not. Indeed it has to be said the firm’s previous attempts have not been a success, with new variances being withdrawn after just a couple of years.

It’s been a hard slog for reduced and sugar-free versions. Even with the tsunami of bad news about sugar, less than half, or 43%, of Coke sales are made up of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Diet Coke or Coca-Cola Life. As such, that raises the question as to how popular these new flavors will be, fancy cans or not.

Free Download: The January 2018 MMI Report

For the canmakers, the new, slimmer cans will require an investment in tooling to meet Coke’s volumes but technologically will present no issues, as plenty of products are sold in similarly shaped containers already.

Pavel Ignatov/Adobe Stock

Before we head into the weekend, let’s take a look back at the week that was and some of the headlines here on MetalMiner:

Buying Aluminum in 2018? Download MetalMiner’s free annual price outlook

Want to see an Aluminum Price forecast? Take a free trial!

Windsor/Adobe Stock

This morning in metals news, weaker demand in China could counterbalance other forces that would push the prices of copper and aluminum up, the Chinese perspective on potential looming trade actions from the Trump administration, and new research has produced a “super-strong” aluminum alloy.

Buying Aluminum in 2018? Download MetalMiner’s free annual price outlook

Could Flagging Chinese Demand Put a Damper on Metals Rally?

Last year saw base metals prices rise significantly, particularly aluminum and copper. With labor negotiations going on at a number of Chilean copper mines and China’s government program of steel and aluminum capacity closures, one could expect prices to rise even further based on supply dynamics.

However, according to a Reuters poll, slowing Chinese demand could conspire to depress the gains that the aforementioned forces might otherwise produce.

According to a UBS analyst quoted by Reuters, copper demand growth in China should slow down this year. Similarly, as the world’s biggest aluminum consumer, any fluctuations in Chinese demand has significant ripple effects on the global aluminum market.

The Impact of Trade Action on China

An article in the South China Morning Post speculated on the impacts of pending U.S. trade decision — like the Section 232 probes of aluminum and steel imports — on the Chinese economy.

However, the articles cites the Section 301 probe — investigating intellectual property theft — as the biggest “Trump card” in the U.S.’s arsenal.

According to Derek Scissors, a trade specialist at the American Enterprise Institute, the article quotes him as saying the Section 301 probe could “justify sweeping American sanctions” worth “many billions” of dollars on Chinese telecoms and semiconductor products, including consumer electronics.

A Stronger Aluminum Alloy

Research at Purdue University’s School of Materials Engineering has produced a “super-strong” aluminum alloy that rivals stainless steel in strength, according to

A paper on the research was published Jan. 22 in the journal “Advanced Materials,” according to the report.

Want to see an Aluminum Price forecast? Take a free trial!

According to Purdue professor Xinghang Zhang, the stronger, lightweight alloy could “revolutionize the automobile and aerospace industries,” Zhang was quoted as saying.

Silicon Valley and the modern-day entrepreneurs it has spawned cannot be accused of lacking blue sky thinking.

Wondering how your stainless steel prices compare to the market? Benchmark with MetalMiner

Some of their ideas appear whacky and subsequently disappear from the news almost as soon as they are proposed. Others, however, have gone on to become real success stories, challenging our lack of vision and belief.

Take Elon Musk, for example. While he had his supporters for Tesla, there were many more detractors in the early days. Those detractors said he would never get his niche electric car company to a scale able to challenge the incumbents.

Here we are just a few years later and Tesla is worth more than Ford (optimistically in our opinion, but still in the market’s eyes).

SpaceX was ridiculed even more as a rich man’s ego trip, but the firm has achieved more in its few short years – on a much smaller budget — than the lumbering giant that is NASA.

So before we write off the following, think on the above. Elon Musk’s 2013 paper on the future of the Hyperloop (a futuristic, high-speed train running in a vacuum tube) seemed so much hot air back then. It has since been quietly gathering support, and undergoing tests, such that now results suggest that while his original Los Angeles to San Francisco route may not happen anytime soon, other routes and applications could be viable.

Read more

Liquefied natural gas . donvictori0/Adobe Stock

Natural gas has long been promoted as a less-polluting alternative to coal and less-costly alternative to nuclear power.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Its green credentials are not whiter than white, but relative to coal, modern combined cycle gas turbine power plants (CCGT) are highly efficient, emit low levels of pollution and crucially can be turned on and off quickly to provide intermittent or peak power demands, in addition to balancing more variable sources (such as renewables).

The Non-Nuclear Option?

After Fukushima, many major economies have moved away from nuclear.

In addition to Japan’s near complete shutdown of its nuclear generating capacity, Germany followed suit. Even France, long a champion of nuclear power, has said less of its generating capacity will be met by nuclear in the future.

The expectation was that natural gas would be the natural successor to nuclear power, as countries took an increasingly responsible view to reducing carbon emissions. But despite a surge of investment in natural gas liquefaction facilities and the construction of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers, the growth in LNG consumption has been much lower than expected.

LNG Demand Drops in Europe

In fact, some markets are going backwards, the FT reports.

Natural gas demand in Europe is 12% lower than it was 10 years ago. Chinese and Indian demand continues to grow, but the dramatic gains by solar power and wind, where costs have fallen 85% since 2009, have severely limited the prospects for natural gas as a power source.

Indeed, India’s entrenched coal industry and coal-based electricity generating capacity means its future is likely to be predominantly solar and coal — not natural gas at all.

China, like Europe, has adopted renewable power (particularly wind) on the basis of cost, as costs have tumbled for both solar and wind (again, particularly wind) to below the cost of natural gas.

As new supply-side capacity comes onstream, the market for natural gas has shifted from long-term contracts signed prior to new LNG facilities even being started to a competitive spot market; yet even here, prices are not low enough to spur a significant switch from renewables investment to gas.

Only in the U.S., where shale gas prices are low, has natural gas consumption risen significantly. However, even that is more geared toward chemicals feedstock and to supply exports rather than to meet rising demand due to power generation.

Looking Ahead

The future, at least over the next few years, is not any rosier for gas producers.

U.S. production is rising, Russia is opening up new resources in the north and is looking to export more, projects in Australia have created a major competitor to Qatar and Middle Eastern suppliers. Meanwhile, the world’s second-largest reserves in Iran are waiting for investment to bring them to market. The Financial Times suggests new finds in the eastern Mediterranean by Israel, Egypt, and off East Africa may never see sufficient investment to develop liquefaction and export, and are destined only for local consumption.

Free Sample Report: Our Annual Metal Buying Outlook

This is not exactly music to the ears of aluminum producers for whom LNG liquefaction and regasification plants and the construction of LNG carriers has been a particularly profitable niche industry over the last decade. LNG gas codes call for controlled chemistry and manufacture that has created a higher value add industry for more sophisticated and capable producers.

Despite steel producers’ best endeavors, aluminum continues to make inroads into the industry’s previously unassailable position as construction material of choice for the automotive industry.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Stronger and, hence, thinner grades of steel allow automotive body formers to find new applications for steel where aluminum seemed like the obvious choice. However, at best this is slowing the uptake of the light metal, not turning the situation around.

Novelis’ announcement that it is bringing its automotive alloy Advanz 6HF – e/s200 to North America after successful development and uptake in Europe only re-enforces the impression that both steel and aluminum producers are innovating and investing like mad — but aluminum is gradually winning market share.

And it is not hard to see why. Aluminum has lower mechanical properties than steel when compared on samples of the same thickness, but has the far lower weight, 2.7g/cm3, compared to 7.85g/cm3. This means thicker sections or parts can be formed while still achieving substantial weight gains.

Novelis Advanz 6HF – e/s200 is one of a range of alloys the firm has developed broadly based on the 6000 series with careful control of alloying elements and production giving enhanced properties. But in some applications producers have developed 7000 series alloys as used by the aerospace industry in aircraft wings and bodies to achieve even higher properties.

7000 series alloys are harder to form and more expensive but have even higher mechanical properties — circa 600MPa compared to circa 300Mpa for 6000 series — and allow automakers to achieve better weight gains. In an Aleris presentation, the company illustrated how the use of 3.5 millimeter thick 7000 series alloy in the manufacture of B pillars achieved the same safety crash performance as 2 mm boron UHS steel, but resulted in a 40% weight saving.

As if to reinforce Novelis’ announcement, competitor Aleris has just opened its new $400 million auto body sheet production centre in Lewisport, Kentucky, and started delivering product to customers. Like Novelis, the firm uses primarily scrap as its feedstock, boosting its green credentials. Aleris produces a range of proprietary alloy grades with enhanced properties over common 6061 grades specifically tailored for a variety of automotive applications. The 6000 series is the industry’s grade family of choice, as they sit comfortably between cheaper and less strong 5000 series and stronger but more expensive (and often harder to form) 7000 series.

In Europe, manufacturers like Audi are going Body in White — meaning the whole structural body shell, plus closing panels like hood, trunk and doors, as wholly or largely in aluminum.

Not surprisingly, this is more at the premium end of the market, where the pressure to improve fuel economy from larger engines is greatest and where higher margins can more readily absorb the cost of using aluminum.

But you do not need deep research to show the direction — Repair and Drive in a recent article quoted a Ducker Worldwide study that predicted that aluminum doors will have gone from virtually zero use as a material in 2014 to 25% of the North American fleet in 2020.

Underlining how rapid the uptake is underway, the consulting firm also estimated 71% of hoods would be aluminum by 2020, up from 50% in 2015, and bumper beams would grow from 33% aluminum in 2015 to 54% in 2020, the article explained.

The current administration’s adverse reaction to broader climate change policies is not the issue here. Automotive is a global business and U.S. manufacturers need to be at the forefront of design and material use to maintain their global positions. The legislation for ever higher fuel efficiency is going to remain a relentless one-way dynamic, encouraging automotive construction to use ever lighter materials and aluminum producers to continue to innovate with alloys and production processes to meet the industry’s demand.

Free Sample Report: Our Annual Metal Buying Outlook

For now, the focus is on improved 6000 series; in time, more components will justify the use of 7000 series alloys. Either way, the industry has shown it is willing to spend big bucks to stay in what is proving to be a very lucrative race.

Last week, MetalMiner examined the latest graphite electrode surcharge announced by two mills. Outokumpu and AK Steel published a new surcharge starting with November shipments of 30 Euro/mt and $13.20/mt respectively.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The mills cite rising graphite prices as the culprit. MetalMiner analyzed the electric arc furnace (EAF) production process along with graphite prices, and concluded that the surcharge does not appear justified.

MetalMiner reader Franck Fraudeau from Safe Metal provided us with some data, which we have used to conduct additional analysis.

Rising Graphite Electrode Prices

Fraudeau reminded us that the new surcharge came as a result of an increase in graphite electrode prices, not graphite prices. According to Fraudeau, graphite electrode prices tend to fall between the $2,000-3,000/mt range. Prices today stand at $13,000/mt.

Let’s re-examine the cost to produce one metric ton of graphite electrodes.

Source: Graftech

Needle coke, a crude oil derivative, accounts for 40-44% (depending on the year) of the cost to produce one metric ton of electrodes. Graftech, one of the leaders in graphite electrode production, prices graphite electrodes to their customers along two parameters:

  • Base price, which tends to vary in a range depending on the graphite electrode diameter and properties.
  • Energy surcharge, which includes the volatile changes of raw materials, utilities, freight and manufacturing costs. This surcharge changes depending on crude oil prices. If Brent crude oil climbs above $90/barrel, then a surcharge goes into effect for each dollar above the $90 barrel level.

Brent Crude Oil prices. Source: TradingEconomics

Brent crude oil prices have remained below the $90/level since the end of 2014. Therefore, this surcharge has not caused the increase in graphite electrode prices; in fact, the increase comes down to the base price.

Needle coke comes from either petroleum or coal. Needle coke prices increased from $450/ton to $3,200/ton in one year. For graphite electrodes, coal is commonly the raw material.

It is true that coal prices have increased since the beginning of 2016. However, prices were higher at the end of 2016 than they are today.

Coal prices. Source: TradingEconomics

The Role of Coal

The whole surcharge hinges on an increase in one of two raw materials needed to make needle coke: coal.

As mentioned, the producers of electrodes can use the substitute material, oil, which of course has traded flat. Graphite electrode production is currently controlled by only a few companies, such as SGL Group and Graftech, each with substantial operations in the U.S., and China-based Fangda Carbon.

North American global market share is approximately 45%, of which the U.S. controls around 70%. Europe controls around 25%, while China has an approximate 20% share of the electrode market.

However, needle coke production is mainly located in China.

Thus, the ongoing capacity closures that the Chinese government has developed to curb pollution will also threaten needle coke supply. (Source: Research Nester Subscription Required)

Graphite Electrode Market Suppliers

There are three major companies supplying the U.S. graphite electrode market: SGL Group (21% domestic market share); SDK (a Japan-based company with 35% of domestic market share) and GrafTech (22% of domestic market share). Other countries — Japan, India, Russia and China — account for the other 22% U.S. market share.

Contracts and purchases are based on a bidding process, but generally these three companies supply most of the domestic market. In 2016, SDK tried to buy SGL Group, but the U.S. started a complaint against both groups in September 2017, claiming that it limits market competition. By joining forces, the two firms would account for 56% of the domestic market, resulting in decreased market competition.

It’s possible — and we have not done the research — that the European market relies more on needle coke made from coal and not oil, hence the real rise in prices for electrodes to European companies (including Outokumpu). North American electrode producers may have a competitive advantage by using oil instead of coal.

According to Roskill, “The graphite electrode industry is oligarchical with very few companies having the production technology. Prices are set by the major players including US company, GrafTech International, and Chinese company, Fangda Carbon New Material, which together, account for around 22% of global capacity for graphite electrodes, as well as other major companies in Japan, China, India, Russia and Germany.”

Producers Ought to be Asking…

  1. Are GrafTech and SGL using oil, which has traded sideways to flat for all of 2017, instead of coal? (Maybe they have used product substitutes?)
  2. It appears as though the European market is supplied differently from the U.S. market. Whereas U.S. stainless and steel producers can buy electrodes domestically, European firms rely upon Chinese mills for these materials and the Chinese are cracking down on high-polluting industries.
  3. Moreover, China has both higher coal as well as oil prices (versus the U.S.), making product substitution in the electrode-making process untenable.

Our New Calculation

Even if needle coke prices have increased, margins appear wider than before.

Are graphite electrode companies trying to pressure steel and stainless producers to lock in forward using today’s spot prices? Probably.

And if we were on the negotiating team for EAF producers, we would put some pressure on the electrode producers to use oil-based derivatives versus coal.

The table below models the COGS of graphite electrodes shown at the beginning of this article. Based on current needle coke prices using 40% as the cost basis, we can see the producers’ cost has increased from $1,240/mt to $8,900/mt. The current sale price indicates the prices for graphite electrodes, as reported by Safe Metal.

Thus the needle coke price increase has a significant impact on the overall margins of the electrode producers.

Source: MetalMiner analysis of Safe Metal content

Although needle coke prices have increased, as shown in the table above, graphite electrodes can be produced using crude oil. In fact, GrafTech’s most recent annual report specifically states that one of its U.S. facilities produces petroleum needle coke.

How Does This Impact Steel Prices?

Since steelmakers deploy two different processes to produce steel (EAF or BOF blast oxygen process), we might expect to hear some noise from the EAF steel producers.

However, we suspect the EAF producers have long-term contracts for electrodes. Steel EAF producers may have locked purchases and contracted supply on a 6-12 month basis, as contracts are settled in the graphite electrode industry.

Some Turkish EAF producers have changed steel production times (for example, at nights, when electricity is cheaper) as they consider this increase an operational cost and and have adjusted steel prices.

Did stainless steel producers buy forward for their electrode requirements? We’d like to think so. Why have some mills, such as Outokumpu, announced the surcharge for Mexico and Canada and not the U.S. market? Was AK Steel caught short by not locking up raw material supply, or does AK want to try and capture additional margin from customers with a surcharge?

Some in the industry have started to question the logic behind the electrode surcharge, stating that the most recent base price increase should cover this increased cost. Why hasn’t it?

Free Download: The October 2017 MMI Report

Please feel free to share any of your thoughts with us privately at or leave a public comment.