Soon, we may be able to produce e-vehicle parts from scrap aluminum

Use of secondary aluminum is environmentally friendly and can reduce the cost of components, says study.
Sejal Sharma
Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion (ShAPE)
Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion (ShAPE)

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 

As fuel-efficient car requirements increase, the transportation industry is looking for lightweight shifting materials. Although steel has been the go-to metal for vehicle components, the industry is slowly making a shift towards aluminum, which is lighter than steel, strong, and does not rust.

The industry has long used aluminum for vehicle frames, electrical wiring, air conditioning condenser, and engine parts. The bad news is that most conventional methods of producing and shaping lightweight materials are not energy- and cost-effective.

The latest study, a collaborative effort between the U.S Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and a mobility technology company Magna, claims to have developed an innovative method that uses scrap aluminum to produce high-strength vehicle parts which are cost and energy effective.

The process reduces CO2 emissions by over 90% and saves 50% energy

As per the press release, the Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion (ShAPE) collects scraps and aluminum cuttings left over from the automotive manufacturing processes and transforms them into materials for new vehicle parts. This process eliminates the need to mine the same amount of raw aluminum ore. The team is now revamping this process to produce lightweight parts for electric vehicles.

“We showed that aluminum parts formed with the ShAPE process meet automotive industry standards for strength and energy absorption,” said Scott Whalen, a PNNL materials scientist, and lead researcher. “The key is that ShAPE process breaks up metal impurities in the scrap without requiring an energy-intensive heat treatment step. This alone saves considerable time and introduces new efficiencies.”

The research is a four-year collaborative effort between Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Magna, which received funding from DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office, Lightweight Materials Consortium (LightMAT) Program.

The study is hopeful that, owing to the excellent mechanical properties that ShAPE offers, it may one day be able to manufacture components for the aerospace and construction industries as well.

“Sustainability is at the forefront of everything we do at Magna,” said Massimo DiCiano, Manager of Materials Science at Magna. “From our manufacturing processes to the materials we use, the ShAPE process is a great proof point of how we’re looking to evolve and create new sustainable solutions for our customers.”

Study abstract

Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion (ShAPE) is presented as a new manufacturing technology for converting aluminum scrap directly into extruded products. In this work, a porthole die configuration is integrated within the rotating ShAPE process to extrude circular, square, trapezoidal, and two-cell trapezoidal profiles from aluminum alloy 6063 industrial scrap. Microstructural characterization is presented for a trapezoidal profile having an average grain size of 6.7 µm in the as-extruded condition. Round tubes achieved yield strength (246.9 ± 10.4 MPa), ultimate tensile strength (270.8 ± 9.6 MPa), and uniform elongation (16.5 ± 2.4%) exceeding industry standards.

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