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The SALEMA project – Driving sustainable aluminium

The SALEMA project is a combined strategy of decreasing the critical raw material dependency (from magnesium and silicon) and creating a sustainable economy in the aluminium manufacturing industry of Europe. The electric automotive sector needs high-performance, sustainable aluminium sources, that is only possible by the generation of a new aluminium ecosystem.

 

The SALEMA project - Driving sustainable aluminium p

16 Partners from six countries united to create brand new, high-performance aluminium alloys and demonstrate their suitability in automotive applications. Meanwhile, they will develop a circular economy model to reintegrate scrap aluminium materials into the primary aluminium manufacturing process of car parts.

 About the project

To meet the goals of the new European Green Deal, the automotive industry is facing multiple challenges. Cars are not famous for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in general, but the European Union is working hard to change this perception. Electric vehicles are slowly taking over the streets of cities, but they still lack behind combustion engine vehicles in terms of long-distance performance. The problem is due to the capacity of batteries and their large weight. Heavy electric cars use more energy to overcome the same distance compared to lighter cars, this is why we need to reduce their weight as much as possible.

However, there is a lightweight metal taking over the whole industry: aluminium. Aluminium is the perfect fit for electric cars, being light but robust, it can be used for structural parts of the car’s body. But aluminium is not a new solution in cars. On average there is 15% of all parts made from aluminium in large scale production cars while this number is higher than 50% in the case of electric vehicles moreover, it is increasing every year. Then why don’t we use aluminium already for every car?

The soils of Europe lack bauxite, the ore that primary aluminium is produced from, thus we are dependant on imports. If it was not enough, traditionally the production of high-performance aluminium alloys that are feasible to manufacture cars from requires other elements like magnesium and silicon that are also considered as Critical Raw Materials (CRM) and are not available in sufficient quantities. Moreover, the production of aluminium from bauxite requires enormous amounts of energy. But, the Horizon2020 project SALEMA have multiple solutions to solve all these issues.

Perhaps Europe doesn’t have enough aluminium in the ground, but it has enough above ground in the form of used car parts. Luckily, aluminium is a 100% recyclable material, thus instead of becoming waste, the cars that end up in the scrap yards can become a reliable source for the production of new vehicles. And recycling aluminium is not only beneficial because it is a greener way of making cars, but it is also much more energy efficient. Compared to primary aluminium production from bauxite, producing recycled aluminium from scrap metal needs 20 times less energy!

The SALEMA project will develop, validate and put into action a fully circular economy model for aluminium in the automotive industry, thus opening a new era of sustainable aluminium manufacturing. Moreover, the project is developing brand new, high-performance aluminium alloys with minimalised critical raw material content. This will decrease the dependencies on imported raw materials and strengthen the resilience of the European value chains against foreign market disruptions.

To produce structural parts of cars from recycled aluminium, we need to overcome the issue that recycled aluminium alloys historically were of lower quality. This is why SALEMA works on developing completely new alloys that are superior in performance but still have high quantities of recycled aluminium. However, the project is also working on reducing the Critical Raw Material content of these novel alloys and replacing magnesium and silicon as much as possible. Eventually, the SALEMA alloys will be of higher quality, more sustainable and less sensitive to market disruptions.

The SALEMA project - Driving sustainable aluminium p two

Overall, 16 partners from six European countries have joined forces because they believe driving the way for a more sustainable automotive industry starts with lightweight cars made of aluminium.

GOALS and EXPECTED RESULTS

  • SALEMA will implement and validate a fully circular economy model in the car manufacturing industry for aluminium, thus opening a new era of sustainable aluminium manufacturing.
  • Develop two brand new aluminium alloys for each pilot manufacturing technique (for more see key technologies).
  • These alloys will contain significantly decreased critical raw materials (silicon, magnesium) compared to current aluminium alloys, and more recycled aluminium.
  • Demonstrate the feasibility of the SALEMA alloys with five aluminium parts manufactured for electric vehicles (for more see demonstrations).

SOLUTIONS

Demonstrators

Overall five case studies will be used to assess the performance of the new SALEMA alloys in the most relevant processing routes for the automotive industry. These demonstrators have been selected to cover a wide range of potential applications of the newly developed alloys and investigated the most common and future promising transforming processes to speed up market up-taking.

Key technologies

SALEMA will set up four pilots by adapting existing industrial facilities. To validate the novel low CRM aluminium alloys, the existing facilities of the industrial transformation partners will be adapted to the requirements of the newly developed alloys. The adaptation of the equipment will be equivalent to the usual implementation procedure of a new aluminium grade, involving no foreseeable major modifications of the setup. Read more about the four pilots and demonstrators below!

Circular economy

A circular economy is an economic system of closed loops in which raw materials, components and products lose their value as little as possible, renewable energy sources are used, and systems thinking is at the core. The European Commission adopted the new circular economy action plan in March 2020. It is one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe’s new agenda for sustainable growth.

The SALEMA project - Driving sustainable aluminium p eight
The circular economy of aluminium by the SALEMA project

The new action plan announces initiatives along the entire life cycle of products. It targets how products are designed, promotes circular economy processes, encourages sustainable consumption, and aims to ensure that waste is prevented and the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible.

The SALEMA project - Driving sustainable aluminium p seven
Preliminary demonstrator car parts of SALEMA

Although it is hard to choose one clear definition for the circular economy, many of them focus on the so-called 3-R approach:

  • Reduce (minimum use of raw materials)
  • Reuse (maximum reuse of products and components)
  • Recycle (high-quality reuse of raw materials)

SALEMA implements these strategies to further sustainable growth with low critical raw material alloy and recycled aluminium production for the automotive sector.

SALEMA demonstrates the feasibility of closing the loop in high-quality aluminium alloys processing. Historically, using shredded end-of-life mix recycled aluminium scrap came with main drawbacks in the mechanical properties of the alloys.

SALEMA will address this problem not only by studying and evaluating but by demonstrating the viability of the proposed new alloys at an industrial scale for one of the most regulated sectors, the automotive industry.

The key components of the SALEMA solutions:

  • Substantial contribution to the circular economy by designing, producing and validating alloys with lower critical raw material content.
  • Reducing the imports of raw materials into the EU.
  • Decreasing the exports of currently considered low-valuable materials such as mixed post-consumer aluminium scrap.
  • Increasing the use of end-of-life mix recycled aluminium scrap in novel aluminium alloys and developing a new scrap sorting technology to better classify the end-of-life mixed scrap.
  • Developing new aluminium alloys that are more robust to the presence and variability of impurities and tramp elements.
  • Mitigating problems related to scarcity and high-supply risk chain of critical raw materials.
  • Reducing the environmental pressure of virgin aluminium and critical raw material extraction and avoiding potential scrap accumulation.

The SALEMA project - Driving sustainable aluminium p four

To find out more visit www.salemaproject.eu

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