The pressing need for solutions that provide the same functional capacity but at a lighter weight is apparent across numerous industries. One of the key industries driving this field is the transportation sector: CAFE regulations are putting pressure on transportation that use combustion engines to reduce their emissions and the electric variants have a pressing need for more mileage, lightweighting structural components are key solutions to this.
Lightweight metals provide the most advanced solution to meet these challenges. IDTechEx have analysed the complete supply chain for aluminium, magnesium, metal matrix composites (MMC), and metal foams. Each one stands at different levels of market maturity, but all possess underlying advancements in technological innovations and contain a wealth of opportunities.
Through extensive primary research, this report provides global analysis of this market including complete market forecasts and company profiles based on primary interviews from many of the most innovative emerging companies.
This is the most mature of the lightweight metals and it is not surprising that it is forecast to have a bright 10-year period with both production of primary and secondary metal increasing. Extrusions, castings, and rolled products all have their role to play and the transportation sector is set to be the key battleground.
One of the key emerging areas is the use of the lightest metals as alloying agents, these include:
- Lithium is used in small percentages to great effect for the improvement of fatigue crack and corrosion resistance as well as enhanced specific strength and stiffness. The market opportunity is immediately apparent from the recent investments from the largest players (Arconic and Constellium) and significant announcements for example how it will be used in the fuselage of the next-generation Boeing 777X.
- Scandium plays a key role in forming cuboid microstructures which provides an improved tensile strength and crucially both the reduction in crack formation and improved strength of welds. The limitation has always been the high price-tag, scandium is not directly mined and is rather a by-product of other mined products. This is about to change, there are lots of proposed mining projects current seeking permission, raising funds, and completing feasibility studies. If they were all to become operational the annual output of Scandium oxide (the metal precursor) would increase more than 20-fold within the 10-year period.
- Beryllium will not have the same impact as the others. However, when used in a high volume percentages the effects on temperature stability and coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE), coupled with the lightweight strength and stiffness advantages, has resulted in its use for precision avionic electronics and comparable applications to be on the rise.
At 1/3rd the weight of steel and abundant in the Earth's crust, the uptake of magnesium should be an obvious option. However, there are multiple challenges that this metal faces, including: brittleness when extruded, galvanic corrosion, a raw material process that releases significant CO2 (or a more environmental alternative that has a high capital investment), and a negative perception of the associated hazards.
Although the gap will close, IDTechEx forecast that the demand will remain below supply for the 10-year period. The predominant sector will remain the die casting of parts for the automotive sector, but key innovations and talking points also featured in this report include:
- Large expansions using electrolysis technology for magnesium production
- Initial projects using carbothermal reduction to produce magnesium
- New alloys removing the need for rare earth additives
- Melt conditioning process improve the potential in both direct chill and twin roll casting.
- Rotational extrusion improves the ductility of magnesium parts.
- Regulatory changes for the use in aerospace interiors
Metal Matrix Composites:
MMCs have a complicated history, with many periods of interest and investment but without more than a niche market persisting. IDTechEx have analysed the aluminium, titanium, and magnesium MMC industry and predict that this is set to change thanks to both strong demands and technological innovations.
The additives can be split into:
- Nanotubes & 2D materials
- Particles and nanoparticles
- Discontinuous fibres or whiskers
- Fibre monofilaments
- Fibre tows
Within this report, each of these additives are discussed in granular detail including the underlying technology, main players, cost progressions, market dynamics, and much more.
Aluminium foams, usually in the form of sandwich panels, will grow moderately from small roots to a more significant industry. Open-cell structures will struggle against the rise of 3D printing of metals, but the cheaper closed cell variants will have some growth in rolling stock, automotive, building & construction, and military sectors.
The different manufacturing processes and the main players are all critically analysed in this report. IDTechEx believe the use of a blowing agent in a metal powder is the most promising with the ability to form strong metallurgical bonds with outer metal skins. Linked with MMCs, there is also the use of gas blowing through a liquid metal that can form the foam in a continuous methodology.