Naveen Mehta, President of Operations at Jindal Aluminium, on how aluminium can help drive sustainability and energy efficiency even as manufacturers develop new alloys with newer manufacturing processes to make it cost-effective for OEMs. An interview by Mayank Dhingra.
There is growing use of aluminium in the auto industry, in India and globally. What are the typical applications?
Aluminium has vast use in the auto industry and is the second most-used metal after steel today. One can find it in a vehicle’s frame, body, electrical wiring, wheels, ABS brakes, transmission, air-conditioning system including condenser and pipes, magnets for speedometers, tachometers, and airbags, and engine parts like pistons, radiator and even the cylinder head.
What are the key properties and USPs of aluminium over conventional metals such as steel? What specific benefits does it offer?
The key lies in the weight difference that aluminium can offer. Aluminium clearly wins when it comes to lightweighting, which is a key parameter today for automobile manufacturers. It is a metal that made aerospace a reality. Being a metal that is universally versatile, aluminium finds itself widely used across various sectors due to its sustainable nature, lightweight and energy-efficient qualities.
Aluminium is used in a vehicle’s frame, body, electrical wiring, wheels, ABS brakes, transmission, AC system including condenser and pipes, magnets for speedometers, tachometers, and airbags, and engine parts like pistons, radiator and even the cylinder head.
How much does aluminium contribute to overall weight of a midsized sedan or SUV today and what could be its further benefits?
Presently, aluminium makes up for an average of 40kg per car in India. The same is 160kg overseas. Roughly, a kilogram of aluminium used would bring down the vehicle weight by twice the conventional weight of a vehicle. Therefore, the usage of aluminium contributes to a weight reduction of upto 40-45 percent in a midsized car.
In the area of manufacturing processes, approximately 3kg of steel or cast iron can be replaced with 1kg of aluminium. Aluminium condenses vehicular weight, thus providing better acceleration and also improved fuel economy. So, if all limitations on the use of aluminium are done away with, a car weighing 1,200-1,300kg will weigh somewhere about 700kg ballpark.
As OEMs strive to make their vehicles lighter, what new areas of application of aluminium can emerge?
The demand for applying innovative and lightweight solutions to newer areas in the construction of an automobile will continue, and therefore, constant research and development efforts are always underway to find a better alloy of aluminium for the future.
The use of aluminium in auto body sheets is set to grow in the automobile industry as is going to be its application for structural castings. As we advance, aluminium will also play a crucial role in electric vehicles as they begin to get increasingly rolled out in India. Here, the role of aluminium in creating battery casings will be extremely important. In the time to come, aluminium is only going to find its way into automobile body parts and entire car bodies, given its high strength and ductility.
As aluminium replaces other materials in the future, bonnets, fenders, and doors too will offer newer areas of application of this metal in the next generation of vehicles. As a metal offering high stiffness levels, particularly those meeting the chassis' rigidity requirements, aluminium will also find potential use in providing crash impact-minimising solutions in vehicles of the future.
How do you view the rate of adoption of aluminium by the auto industry over the past few years and where is it headed?
The rate of aluminium’s adoption has been significant. And this is no surprise because it is a metal that is indispensable and presents a quick, safe, environment-friendly, and cost-effective way to increase performance. While ensuring safety and durability, aluminium also boosts fuel economy and reduces the carbon footprint.
As mentioned earlier, every kilogram of aluminium used in a car reduces the overall weight of the vehicle by as much as two times. It is for this reason that an increasing number of car parts are being made from aluminium. And that is where it is headed in the future. Light trucks and SUVs will contain the highest content of aluminium, followed by the bigger and more expensive vehicles along with EVs, and lastly, the smaller vehicle offerings in the lower end of the spectrum will see the least composition.
Are stricter norms going to act as enablers in the faster adoption of aluminium in automobiles?
Definitely. Penetration of aluminium as a material per vehicle will go a long way in reducing carbon emissions and increasing fuel efficiency. The industry has set targets and is moving towards sustainability. Aluminium is a critical metal in this space and in achieving these targets. All norms enforced towards this aspect are in the right spirit and will surely act as enablers.
But cost has been one of the major inhibiting factors so far. How can the industry overcome this challenge for enhanced usage of aluminium in vehicles?
Both the aluminium and automotive industries have made significant attempts to make aluminium cost-effective. New alloys are being developed along with newer manufacturing processes on the automobile manufacturing side. These alloys will be easier to extrude and shall come at a lower price and could be the possible answers to the present-day challenges, leading to the adoption of aluminium on a much larger scale.
Consumption of aluminium in engine-related parts will be wiped out with EVs. How do you view the impact on your automotive business?
We rather expect a positive impact with the onset of EVs on our business. Electric vehicle makers are looking at lowering the weight of the vehicles. The answer to this lies in the increased usage of a lighter metal like aluminium. Therefore, a strategy of joint innovation and engineering between aluminium manufacturers and OEMs would be the right way forward.
What is the current installed capacity at Jindal Aluminium? What is the supply bifurcation and the future roadmap?
We have produced over 1.32 lakh tonnes of aluminium in FY2019-20 including extruded aluminium as well as flat-rolled products. Being among the top aluminium extrusion companies in India, we manufacture highly precise extruded profiles that meet the international standards and tolerances. Manufacturers of two-wheelers, four-wheelers and commercial vehicles including buses, tractors and heavy commercial vehicles make use of these profiles. We also supply our profiles for Metro rail and high-speed trains. Our future roadmap would involve continued supplies to cater to the requirements of the automotive industry, as well as looking at the defence and aerospace sectors.
Where is India placed in terms of aluminium production and being self-reliant? What is the growth outlook?
Jindal Aluminium and the Indian downstream aluminium industry have aligned themselves to support the government’s push for Atmanirbhar Bharat. With a progressive infrastructure push, we foresee an upsurge in aluminium consumption in our country from the current level of 2.5kg per capita, which is much lower than the global average of 11kg per capita.
The downstream aluminium industry that JAL is a part of, has extensive forward and backward linkages to the economy and policy reforms can reduce our import dependency and help make us contribute towards self-reliance.