Whether it’s providing technical support, delivering market insight, informing trade policy or offering networking opportunities, ALFED - the UK’s aluminium federation - is focused on helping the industry capitalise on the opportunities at home and abroad.
Here, Jan Lukaszewski, Technical Manager at ALFED shares an update on where the sector currently is, and what direction it’s heading in.
It’s the silvery-white, soft, non-magnetic metal that’s used to produce cans, cars, bicycles, windows, transformers, and a range of household items.
Highly affordable, aluminium is a material in demand across the world. And thanks to the fact it is extremely recyclable, it plays an important role in supporting the world’s circular economy.
Here in the UK, where imports of the material are growing year-on-year, there are three areas where demand for aluminium is expanding fastest.
In the automotive sector there has been a general move away from using heavy steel and other materials to make cars in favour of using lightweight aluminium. Looking ahead, HGVs will soon be manufactured using more aluminium than steel, allowing them to carry heavier loads, meaning fewer trips and a reduction in their carbon emissions. The rise of hybrid vehicles has also helped cement aluminium’s popularity, given its use in battery drives.
Architecturally the benefits of using aluminium have been understood for some time, but it is only in the past few decades that this light, strong and affordable material has been used widely by the construction sector.
And lastly, packaging. This year at Glastonbury you couldn’t find a bottle of water for sale anywhere across the festival. In a move to cut down on single-use plastic, organisers banned plastic bottles, instead selling aluminium tins of water in their place.
The demand is clearly there for aluminium, and this is set to double over the next five years. At the moment, the UK is not self-sufficient in aluminium. Instead we are heavily reliant on imports from Europe and the Far East.
Everyday items like cookware, cooking foil and furniture frames are typically produced overseas and shipped in to the UK, as aluminium sheet is not produced in UK and this is the most cost-effective option.
However, with the possibility of a hard Brexit looming, the UK may need to work with higher tariffs which would make the importing of goods from the EU far more expensive than they currently are.
The good news is that the UK is leading the way in innovation, product development and new technologies when it comes to aluminium, meaning there is also a future in exporting.
At the moment the UK’s domestic strength in this field lies in niche vehicle luxury car manufacturing and high end aerospace technology, but there are other areas of growth.
The next short term development stages for the UK have to be the development of higher strength aluminium alloys, the creation of lower carbon footprint processes, and a greater emphasis on recycling ‘scrap aluminium.
As the voice of the UK industry we realise the importance of ensuring carbon emissions are kept to a minimum and that recycling aluminium remains high on the agenda.
As part of this we are running a closed loop recycling event where guests can learn more about recycling aluminium and the future of this industry in the UK and overseas. You can register and see agenda on line https://alfed.org.uk/alfed-cab-recycling-event/
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