Why iron ore pellets are good news for sustainable steel

What does your kitchen sink have in common with the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai? They might be on a slightly different scale, but they’re both made of steel – the metal that supports our society. Without the steel industry, our world would look very different. But as economies around the world turn toward sustainability with increasing urgency, the steel industry is faced with the challenge of keeping pace. 

Supporting society in a new way

Achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 – the ambitious target set by many governments – won’t be easy for any of us, but the steel industry is facing one of the biggest challenges of all. Partly, this is due to its size: during 2020, about 1,864 million metric tons of crude steel were produced. At this scale, serious environmental impact is guaranteed using traditional production methods. The sintering phase is particularly well-known as the most energy-intensive and polluting step in the entire process. Society needs the industry’s support in a new way today: through rapid change. 

However, the huge scale of the steel industry could prove to be its biggest asset in the race to sustainability. Working at scale means that small changes have big effects – it’s the reason that process efficiency is so important. Each improvement has a big impact, which makes each step very meaningful. 

The sinter solution

Manufacturers have already begun to focus on sinter as the focus to start cutting emissions, and pelletized iron ore offers an innovative solution. Pellets reduce the amount of coking coal required and improve furnace productivity, reducing CO2 emissions in the process. By replacing sinter with high-grade pellets, traditional sintering can be skipped entirely – with electric arc furnaces (EAF) taking the place of the blast furnace, and direct-reduced iron (DRI) as an alternative feed material to steel scrap. This method is known as DRI-fed EAF, and it’s widely considered one of the best ways for the industry to reduce emissions. 

DRI-fed EAF offers a practical and hopeful solution to manufacturers at a time of pressure, which is why many have already made the switch. But process control is just as important in this more sustainable method as in the past, as manufacturers need to keep quality high and their furnaces running as efficiently as possible.  

Preparing for Industry 4.0

Process control in metal production relies heavily on analysis, and precision is key. To reduce waste, keep costs low and ensure quality, manufacturers need to understand every property of their materials, from their mineralogical phase and crystalline structure to particle size. This has always been the case when working with sinter, and it applies to iron ore pellets too. Any efficiencies gained can be lost again if materials are ‘off-spec’.

Tools such as X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and laser diffraction analysis are already widely used and will only become more important in the transition to carbon-neutrality. But the days of laboratory testing and unrepresentative sampling are over – at least, in optimized production environments. Often called ‘industry 4.0’, automated solutions and high-throughput analysis are presenting manufacturers with another valuable way to maximize their efficiency and reduce their environmental impact.  

Futureproof tools

Instruments like the AerisAxios FAST and Insitec ranges from Malvern Panalytical are helping metals companies keep up in the sustainability race and future-proof their processes. With automation options and high-throughput capacity, they offer expert analysis at the speed the modern industry demands – saving time, resources, and costs. In a rapidly evolving steel landscape, better analysis is a trustworthy guide. 

We’re proud to be helping make the transition to automation and sustainable practices smoother and easier.  

Written by: Uwe Konig, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www.materials-talks.com)

Discover how an X-ray diffractometer can automate thin film metrology processes – Q&A

If you would like cleaner, quicker, and more efficient wafer analysis with your X’Pert³ MRD XL X-ray diffractometer for thin film metrology, our recently launched MRD XL Automation tool might just the answer you are looking for. By communicating closely with the host computer with the widely used SECS/GEM protocols, this MRD XL can be automatically controlled, adapted, and efficiently managed throughout the research or production process – from initial wafer selection to results distribution – to meet all your needs.

To engage with our partners and provide insights into how to effectively automate your thin film metrology processes, we recently hosted a live webinar. If you missed it – no worries. You can find the recording here. We’d also like to share some of the most relevant questions we received, as well as our answers…

In the analysis automation can limits be set where any values outside a certain range are flagged with the area on wafer highlighted but do not stop the process?

There are several routes imaginable to achieve this. Firstly, in the host. Secondly, in an analysis script on the local PC. To provide a precise answer, we would need more case-specific information, but there are definitely opportunities for outputting the requested information.

Can I treat reciprocal space mappings in an automated fashion and process the results?

Yes, AMASS (our analysis package) enables complex peak finding and labeling processes and has extensive options regarding its automation via its language-agnostic interface.

Where do you keep measurement data?

By default, the data is stored on a local PC but storage on a file server is also possible. As scripting is part of the solution the opportunities to do this is virtually unlimited.

What’s the maximum and minimum scan areas? And what are the max number of spots on wafer that you can set for automation?

A 200mm wafer can be fully mapped. A 300mm wafer can be handled by automation, but only partially mapped. We have experience with 3-digit numbers of spots for measurements and see no reason for a limit that will be reached in practice.

Written by: Tom Gorter, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www.materials-talk.com)

How lower energy use is becoming more accessible in mining

How did you get to work today? Whether it was in an electric car or on a train powered by renewable electricity, the energy transition is already happening all around us. But reshaping the infrastructure of our homes, workplaces, and industries to become more sustainable will take a lot of work – and a lot of metal.

Powering the energy transition…

It’s projected that up to three billion tons of metal will be needed to support the net-zero targets adopted by many countries and industries. Good news for metals prices – but also a dilemma, as the industry takes on sustainability challenges of its own and seeks to reduce its environmental impact.

Accounting for around 3.5-4% of the world’s energy use, the mining industry is a significant player in worldwide consumption. Many mining processes are inherently energy-intensive, and more sustainable alternatives are not yet available. With many companies having made sustainability commitments ahead of 2030, time is short.

…while decreasing our energy consumption

Accurate elemental analysis provides a flexible, immediate solution to this challenge. Better elemental analysis can be applied from the stockpile to the blast furnace to unlock significant process efficiencies. As the demand for metals continues to spike – those three billion tons will be needed soon! – inefficiencies that might have gone unnoticed before will make themselves felt, but the ability to sort ores easily and in real time can transform the entire metals value chain.

Sorting ores allows the direct detection of any variations or anomalies in ore composition, which makes stockpile management much more efficient. Controlling washing and preventing the processing of waste material saves significant time and energy, and ensures higher consistent quality.

Having ores sorted from the beginning of the process also makes later stages run more smoothly, compounding the benefits downstream. A more consistent output means that fewer additives or corrections will be needed, and eventually can enable more efficient running of the blast furnace – the most visible point of energy consumption.

What do we mean by ‘better’ analysis?

The most immediate way to make analysis more efficient is to get results in real time. Cross-belt analyzers eliminate the need for sampling, saving both time and costs. Analyzing all the material on the belt – from large rocks to fines – means that results will always be representative, and any adjustments needed can be made instantly rather than after testing is carried out elsewhere. The CNA cross-belt analyzers from Malvern Panalytical are designed to accommodate a wide range of belt sizes, making them suitable for many different applications.

At the smaller scale, the CNA instruments make use of pulsed fast thermal neutron activation (PFTNA) technology, using a pulsed flow of neutrons to interact with the nuclei of the atoms in the passing material. The atoms emit gamma rays, and the instrument measures the characteristic energy levels of these rays to identify and quantify the elemental composition of the material.

CNA instrument in the Nickel mining plant

Highly accurate, this method is also very safe for operators. The neutron-emitting module can be switched off during downtime or for maintenance, minimizing their exposure to radiation, and saving precious time on administration and compliance procedures to comply with safety regulations. There’s also no hazardous waste, making PFTNA significantly more sustainable in the long term.

 

Can this be applied across the industry?

PFTNA technology can be applied across a wide range of mining and metals applications, including in the processing of iron ore, bauxite, coal, copper, nickel, and limestone. The CNA analyzers from Malvern Panalytical come in a variety of industry-specific formats, with designs tailored to the specific ore to ensure the greatest efficiency gains possible. They’re flexible in calibration and particle size, depending on the application, and their robust design keeps the cost of ownership and maintenance low.

So, the dilemma of supporting the energy transition while lowering energy use doesn’t have to be a dilemma at all – it can be an opportunity! Thanks to technological innovations like PFTNA, mining and metals can find a way forward that swaps challenges for benefits.

 

Written by: Uwe Konig, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www.materils-talks.com)

Turning Alumina into Aluminum

Continuing our series on the aluminum industry,  this blog will look into how powdered aluminum oxide, also known as alumina or Al2O3, is turned into solid aluminum metal.

Aluminum is found in many places in everyday life, from beverage cans to airplane parts, automobile components, power lines and even cooking utensils. It has become an indispensable part of the infrastructure of our lives, which is why we are looking to expand our portfolio to offer a wider variety of Al materials to our customers.

To review, alumina starts as bauxite that is mined from the ground and then heated with various chemicals and purified to alumina. The yield from bauxite to Al2O3 is roughly 2:1. This powdered Al2O3 is further purified to aluminum, with another yield of roughly 2:1, so each pound of aluminum metal starts with 4 pounds of bauxite.

The Hall-Heroult process is utilized to transform the powdered Al2O3 into Al metal. This process uses a carbon-lined steel vat to hold the alumina and cryolite (Na3AlF6), while carbon electrode rods are then placed above the vat. The vat is heated to just under 1000°C which melts the cryolite, and the molten cryolite is then able to dissolve the alumina. Finally, an electric current is set up between the carbon vat lining and the upper electrodes causing the Al2O3 to break apart, and the molten Al to collect at the bottom of the vat. The Al metal collected at this stage is typically 99.8% pure and will require further processing to be used for the various Al Alloys we use in society today.

Aluminum Blog

Every stage of the entire process requires quality control, the incoming bauxite is screened for compositional analysis. The red mud by-product is screened for environmental compliance with the effluent. The alumina powder is screened for purity, and to ensure that the process is complete. The smelting process has a series of checkpoints. The incoming alumina and cryolite are screened for purity, as is the final metal. Even the steel vat, the carbon lining of the vat, and the electrodes above will have been checked at some point in their life cycle.

At the end of their life cycle, hopefully all of these materials will be recycled, which introduces a whole new set of checkpoints. All of these checkpoints are opportunities for reference materials to be used. Powdered geological materials, liquid ICP standards, and metal standards all have their place in the cycle. LGC Industrial offers many of these materials already, and we are currently developing our own line of powdered geological materials which will be released in the coming year.  Until then, browse our one of our existing product catalogs to find the reference materials you require.

Written by Kim Halkiotis, Posted by: ARMI MBH (www.armi.com)

X-ray diffraction: The next step in copper’s 9,500-year-old story

Can you guess how long humans have been mining copper? Sites in North America indicate that ancient peoples were using copper as long as 9,500 years ago! They used it to create tools, weapons, and jewelry. In our own times, this metal has come to be prized for another reason: its conductivity.

Copper: Why we can’t get enough

Around the world, economies and industries are striving for sustainability – and technology is evolving alongside them. In particular, there’s rapid innovation in the technologies that power renewable energy and electric transportation. New developments in these industries have a huge potential to change how we live, get around and do business.

One thing that those new technologies tend to have in common is that they use a lot of copper. This is because of its amazing conductive properties – it’s a highly efficient material. Less energy needed to produce electricity means less CO2 emitted, for example. As electric vehicles and renewable energy scale up around the world, the demand for this red metal is hitting record highs. The world has changed a lot in 9,500 years!

New challenges need new solutions

The mining industry is turning to lower-grade ore to meet demand, as high-grade ore is becoming harder to find. However, this comes with some complications: the lower the grade, the more difficult it is to recover the valuable metal and the more impurities it has. Producers need to get the most out of their ores, so they invest increasing amounts of energy and resources into the recovery process. Over time it’s becoming less sustainable – and less profitable too.

But what might seem like a problem is really an opportunity. Any efficiency improvements to this process will have a huge impact on sustainability and profitability. The answer? Better analysis!

X-ray diffraction analysis transforms production

After copper ore has been finely ground into powder, it’s often blended before being separated into valuable metal and gangue (waste) through the flotation process. Rapid, precise process control is key at this stage to avoid inefficiency and unnecessary costs.

Fortunately, there’s no need for guesswork. X-ray diffraction analysis (XRD) is ideally suited to characterizing the mineralogical composition of materials – it detects and quantifies the minerals present at even minor concentrations.

PN10700 172 Feature

A 2021 study by Pernechele et al. published in Minerals found that XRD analysis using our automatable Aeris instrument was fast and accurate at determining the mineralogy of copper ore blends, tailing (leftover material), and concentrates.

XRD reveals mineral composition, crystalline structure and texture, and can even directly predict process parameters. Armed with this rich, accurate data, manufacturers can optimize their resources and save energy – transforming the entire production chain. And with less waste and lower energy use, the environmental impact is reduced too!

Get started with Malvern Panalytical

Analysis is the key to bringing traditional materials into the sustainable future. Malvern Panalytical’s range of XRD instruments combines expert-level data with push-button ease of use and flexibility. With specialized editions for the industries that benefit most, we offer a solution for every need – and automation options ensure your processes are as efficient as possible. So, get in touch and find out how we can help optimize your set-up today! You can also take a look at all our base metal mining solutions here.

 

Written by: Uwe König,, Posted by: Malvern Panalyitcal (www.materils-talks.com)

How to improve paint and coating formulations: Crystal phase analysis

In this series of five blog posts, we’re examining the analytical approaches that you can use to get a better understanding of paints and coatings at a nanostructural level. Number two is an approach that I think no coatings scientist can do without – crystal phase analysis using X-ray diffraction.

Since their discovery by Röntgen in 1895, X-rays have found many uses in physics, chemistry and materials science. In fact, I’ve already covered the use of X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to determine elemental composition in my previous blog post. But despite being based on the same process of hitting a sample with X-rays, XRF’s analytical cousin X-ray diffraction (XRD) works in a rather different way and provides completely different information.

Using XRD for crystal phase analysis

XRD operates on the principle of irradiating a crystalline material with monochromatic X-rays and then measuring the angular intensities of the same wavelength X-rays as they scatter from the material. In contrast to X-ray fluorescence for elemental analysis, (in which the individual elements in a material respond with a characteristic X-ray spectrum), in XRD, X-rays are scattered by the regular arrangement of molecules in crystalline lattices. In large enough crystals, the scattered waves interfere to produce a diffraction pattern.

Diffraction patterns give information about both the molecules in a material and the crystal structure they have in solid form – a combination called a ‘phase’. For larger crystals the diffraction patterns are strong and can tell you lots about the internal structure of the crystals, whereas for smaller crystals (such as nanocrystals) the interference is weak, and instead only a scattering pattern is analyzed. Nevertheless, a scattering pattern can still give you information about the size and shape of nanocrystals and nano-layers.
In days gone by, you’d have had to interpret these scattering and diffraction patterns manually, which required more maths than most people would be comfortable with, but the good news now is that all the analysis is automated.

This means that you queue your sample for automated acquisition and data analysis, and find out a large amount of information about your sample – including the materials present, the distribution of phases, the characteristics of crystallites, thin films and nanoparticles, as well as details of strain, preferred orientation, layer thickness, and much more.

In terms of the amount of information that can be gained using a single technique, that’s pretty impressive. But what is XRD actually useful for in the field of paints and coatings?

What is XRD used for in the paint industry?

Checking chemical purity

You’ll hardly need me to tell you that the performance of paints and coatings depends crucially on the quality of the components that go into the formulation. So it’s little wonder that one of the most widespread uses of XRD in the paints and coatings industry is to check the purity of incoming material.

Top of the list for inspection is titanium dioxide or TiO2, which is used as a pigment in many coatings because of its opacity and white color. However, it comes in two polymorphs, anatase and rutile, with the latter being preferred because of its higher refractive index. Fortunately, determining the ratio of these two is an easy task for XRD, allowing manufacturers to make sure that their supplies don’t deviate from what’s needed (the use of XRD for this task is even the subject of a standard method, ASTM D3720).

Fine-tuning color performance

In addition to simply checking supplies, XRD has a role to play in more advanced formulation science, by looking more closely at the color performance of a particular component.

For example, the various phases of iron oxide used in formulations provide gradations of color that are important for achieving the right balance of tinting strength and hue. Built upon many years or artistic endeavor, there are plenty of other pigments where understanding the exact nature and purity of an inorganic or organic compound – or mixtures of them – is critical to achieving a reproducible and enduring color specification.

There is also a large new world of extenders, which can be mineral or organic particles that are more cost-effective than the main color pigments and which can contribute positively to the final color performance. But their mineral purity is important, and phase analysis is frequently used to identify and screen any mineral inconsistencies.

(By the way, color will be a big focus of the next blog post in this series, when we’ll be talking about the effect of particle size and shape).

Investigating smart coatings

Last but certainly not least in this short review of the applications of XRD are so-called ‘smart’ coatings. These are coatings that respond in some way to an external influence – such as varying their refractive index in response to temperature or electric field. In many of them the ‘smart’ function is contained within crystalline pigment particles, which require the same analytical considerations as mentioned above for ‘color’ pigments.

But whatever exciting properties they may have, smart coatings are still fundamentally coatings, and so can be investigated using the same techniques. Once again, XRD is of particular value, because it is unsurpassed in its ability to provide nano-scale information on surfaces and polycrystalline thin films. For example, XRD experiments dedicated to surface thin films can tell you about residual stresses, preferred orientation, film thickness and other aspects of surface microstructure – all of which are essential in order to know how your final coating is performing and whether it’s going to remain ‘smart’.

Anti-reflective glass with an optical interference coating

XRD – In-depth crystal phase analysis

All the above examples show the growing importance of XRD in the world of paint formulation and application. This is especially true given the growing pressure on quality of supplies, and as the accelerating need for higher-performing coatings piles pressure on manufacturers to understand what’s happening in coatings at the nanoscale.

In conclusion, as someone who’s spent much of my career using XRD, it might come as no surprise to hear me say this – but if you allowed me just one analytical technique to use in the paints and coatings sector, it would have to be XRD!

 

Written by: Patricia Kidd, Posted by: Matvern Panalytical (www.materials-talks.com)

How is Alumina Produced?

Alumina is the common name for the chemical compound aluminum oxide (Al2O3). Naturally occurring Al2O3 is called corundum, and it is the foundational component of both rubies and sapphires (color variations arise from the impurities that are found in the crystals). Alumina for industrial use is refined from bauxite ore, which is a mixture of the hydrated aluminum oxide minerals; gibbsite, diaspore, and boehmite along with other compounds such as silicon dioxide, iron oxides, and titanium oxide. Bauxite is often mined from topsoil in tropical and sub-tropical regions. The Bauxite is then treated using the Bayer Process, which separates the bauxite into red mud and Al2O3 using a combination of heat/pressure and sodium hydroxide. Aluminum hydroxide, in the form of fine-grained crystals, is added to facilitate precipitation of aluminum hydroxide crystals. The hydroxide mixture is then heated to drive off the water, producing several grades of alumina; calcined alumina, smelter grade alumina and activated alumina.

Alumina_webimage2

The purified aluminum oxide has many uses, with perhaps the best-known being the end-use in foundries which turn it into aluminum metal, which in–turn is used in a variety of applications. The powdered alumina is also used in several industries, including as fillers in plastic, an abrasive in grinding applications, ceramics, and even to produce reflective effects in metallic paints for automobiles! One of the largest industrial applications for Al2O3 is as a catalyst in refineries, to convert hydrogen sulfide waste gases into elemental sulfur.

As a reference material producer, LGC understands how critical quality-checks are within each stage of the production process. Screening is needed from the raw bauxite coming out of the ground, to the red mud by-products, as well as purity screening of the refined alumina. Once the alumina is turned into solid aluminum metal and Al alloys (to be discussed in a future blog), even more checkpoints are added to the process. LGC Industrial currently provides numerous 17034 aluminum metal standards typically used with either spark OES or XRF, and we will soon be releasing our own line of powdered bauxite and alumina standards.

View our range of aluminum alloy and other metal reference materials by downloading our catalog.  Download Metals Catalog

 

Written by: Kim Halkioti, Posted by: LGC Industial (www.armi.com)

From grey to green cement: Why is analytical data so important in the upcoming building materials revolution?

It’s predicted that 2 billion people will move into cities over the next 30 years. That’s a lot of people – and all those people will need a lot of new infrastructure to be built for them! Much of this growth is likely to rely on cement and concrete, and so the challenge is to build a truly sustainable future for our cement and concrete industry.

On average, 850 kg of CO2 is currently produced per ton of clinker during cement production. This makes the industry responsible for around 7-8% of total CO2 emissions worldwide, and means that sustainability – moving to ‘green cement’ – is an urgent priority.

Innovation paves the way

This challenge will have many different solutions, including saving natural resources and considering efficiencies at all stages of the value chain. We need to create a whole new cement ecosystem involving all stakeholders, from manufacturers to construction companies.

The good news? It’s already happening.

From clinker and cement production through to construction and building design, innovation is finding new ways of working. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight – but by working to make each individual stage better, we’ll be able to step back and see the huge achievements we’ve made together.

So, how can you get involved with all this innovation?

Cement solutions now

In the short- to medium-term, the first step is to work with the conventional methods we have – and that means addressing clinker. Better production efficiency, digitalization, and alternative fuels or renewable materials can greatly reduce the CO2 released during clinker production.

Materials analysis leads naturally to more efficient processes further down the line – for example, your kiln works more efficiently, and you need less correction of your feed composition. X-ray diffraction, such as with the Aeris Cement, lets you monitor mineral phases and control additions to clinker. Particle size distribution analysis, using a laser diffraction instrument like the Mastersizer 3000, can ensure proper raw grinding.

Cement of the future : Green Cement

The second step is to explore green cement products, such as novel or blended cements, and low-carbon concretes. Clinker substitutes such as calcined clay, pozzolans, fly ash and slag produce blended cement with a lower carbon footprint. Exciting new processes allow concrete to sequester carbon from other industries – potentially mitigating 2 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions (that’s a ton for each of those future people moving to the city!). Geopolymer cements also offer another alternative path towards sustainability by using industrial byproducts and less processed materials.

Data lights the path

The cement production process is complex, and every variable can affect the cement’s final performance and strength. Innovation needs to be done carefully to avoid higher costs and waste. The key to success? Precise monitoring and analytic data – not only to control these complex processes and ensure high quality, but also to comply with industry standards and regulations.

Monitoring brings great benefits, too. Being able to control elemental composition and particle size more precisely than ever before allows you to use alternative materials or fuels. In the short term this can help to cut costs and mitigate supply chain instability – and in the long term, can enable efficient, green cement processes across your entire production flow.

Comprehensive process control

Malvern Panalytical offers complete process control solutions that meet the evolving needs of the modern green cement industry. Our comprehensive solution packages are now the standard for most process industries, including more than 400 cement plants worldwide. From fully automated laboratories to instruments for manual sampling or on-line analytical monitoring, our solutions can be implemented at every stage of production to improve efficiency, cut costs, and power innovation.

 

Written by: Murielle Goubard, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www,materials-talks.com)

Electric Vehicles: Making Them Lighter, Safer and More Efficient with Aluminum Alloys

Signed in 2016, The Paris Climate Agreement aims to usher in a carbon-neutral society by 2050. Greenhouse gas emissions released from vehicles play a significant role in achieving the overarching goal of the agreement.

As it stands, cars contribute 12% CO2 emissions to the total EU emissions. The global challenge requires strict guidelines on vehicle CO2 emissions. From 2021 onwards, the new average target emission will be reduced from 130 g CO2/km to 95 g CO2/km across the entire EU.

Leading economies, including the UK, intend to ban all polluting vehicles by 2035, and Germany aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 95% by 2050.

The Age of Electric Vehicles

Electric cars offer much promise in helping meet such targets because, in comparison to traditional cars powered by internal combustion engines, electric vehicles have a considerably lower carbon footprint.

This has kick-started the electric vehicle revolution as an increasing number of road users begin to shift towards purchasing electric cars in line with the government’s climate-friendly measures. The leading auto manufacturers are making significant progress in the electrification of vehicles.

The annual sales of electric cars have soared to over two million per annum from just a few thousand in 2010, with a projected sales figure of 31 million by 2030.

However, a recent study by Deloitte reports that there are still concerns amongst consumers regarding battery-powered electric vehicles: questions that mostly revolve around the price, drive-range per charge and charging time.

Electric cars tend to carry expensive batteries, which means a lack of general affordability resulting in the continued dominance of petrol and diesel-powered in the global market. Additionally, the large batteries found in electric cars tend to require prolonged charging times.

Performance studies have shown that electric cars with heavy batteries and high capacities also have greater energy consumption per km (Berjoza, D. et al, Agronomy Research, 15(S1) 952-963, 2017).

Additionally, the driving range is directly proportional to the battery capacity/vehicle weight (kWh/kg). Therefore, for a better drive range, today’s electric vehicles contain large battery packs, which makes them heavy.

Simulation studies performed at the German Aerospace Centre demonstrate that a reduction in an electric vehicle’s weight by 100 kg improves efficiency by around 3.6%. Therefore, to compensate for heavy batteries, manufacturing lightweight vehicles is an excellent alternative that can enhance energy efficiency.

An investigation led by the European Aluminum Association shows that an electric VW Golf constructed with aluminum is up to 187 kg than steel, while also generating an overall cost saving of 635 euros as a smaller battery pack can be installed (Jung, H. et al, World Electric Vehicle Journal, 9(46), 2018).

Aluminum – Making Electric Cars Safer and Efficient

Due to the fact aluminum is three times less dense than steel, high performance aluminum alloys are a good alternative to heavy steel parts. However, replacing parts with aluminum requires the thickness of the aluminum to be 50% greater than that of steel.

Aluminum has been used in the manufacture of modern cars since the early seventies. Today, there is on average 150 kg of aluminum in each vehicle made in Europe, with aluminum alloys frequently used in the manufacturing of the body-in-white, chassis, suspension and wheels.

Tesla uses a skateboard design for the extruded aluminum frame of its battery pack in order to enhance the robustness of its vehicles.

Influenced by Tesla’s aluminum extrusion-intensive skateboard design, major OEMs, including Audi, BMW, Nissan and Porsche, are now making the switch from steel to aluminum in the design of lightweight battery enclosures for electric cars.

How Safe are Aluminum Cars?

The braking distance of electric cars is reduced when making them lighter, which in turn lighter improves passenger safety and enhances the ease of handling. Aluminum has twice the capacity of steel when absorbing energy in a collision.

In comparison to steel components, the 50% extra thickness of aluminum components means an increase in material stiffness and, therefore, the overall rigidity of the vehicle.

According to a life cycle analysis that compares full-steel to full-aluminum electric vehicles, the carbon emissions of the aluminum vehicle are 1.5 tons lower than the steel-based car across its lifetime.

Aluminum also has the benefit of not having to reduce the vehicle size to attain a lightweight structure. It is vital from a safety perspective since the interior of a smaller vehicle has less survival and crush space during an accident.

These advantages outline the urgency necessary to develop lightweight, robust aluminum alloys for electric vehicles. The chemical composition and homogeneity of alloys directly impact their microstructure.

A careful selection of an aluminum alloy, specific to the application, with the just-right chemical composition is necessary to ensure that it has the required characteristics, such as optimum stiffness, ease of formability, thermodynamic and mechanical properties.

For example, the heat exchangers and battery enclosures must offer high thermal conductivity to maintain a cool temperature in electric cars.

Making Cars More Environmentally Friendly with Aluminum

Since aluminum is 95% recyclable, a considerable amount of aluminum from a used car can be recycled to make a new car: a feature that significantly reduces the indirect lifetime CO2 emissions. Consequently, recycling 1 kg of aluminum saves 17 kg of CO2 emissions in the vehicle’s life-cycle when compared to steel.

Considering the sales figures of electric vehicles are projected at around 30 million electric vehicles by 2030, the environmental impact would be massive. This would be equal to a reduction of 70 million tons per year in CO2 emissions from vehicle production.

The fewer batteries needed to power a lighter car would also yield a lower industrial carbon footprint associated with battery manufacturing.

Leading aluminum producers such as Hydro have even begun incorporating renewable energy sources to manufacture low carbon aluminum for automotive applications.

The Need for Certified Reference Materials

CRMs are utilized for instrument and method calibration, benchmarking analytical measurements and homogeneity of alloys, and quality assurance. ARMI’s CRMs offer a precise reference point for the 6000- and 7000-series, the most commonly used aluminum alloys in electric vehicles.

The extruded crash management systems based on these alloys must demonstrate exceptional crash deformation behavior, i.e., they must withstand extreme deformations before cracks begin to form.

CRMs facilitate appropriate benchmarking, including mechanical properties such as creep and impact toughness, where the latter is a key factor in establishing a certain degree of passenger safety in the event of a crash.

ARMI makes sure that analysis can be relied upon for complex, multicomponent aluminum alloys, utilizing a direct-chill continuous casting process that offers exceptional homogeneity.

Each sample is analyzed utilizing two varying, state-of-the-art analytical techniques such as colorimetry, fluorimetry, X-ray fluorescence and optical emission spectrometry.

The resulting values are cross-referenced against the results from external laboratories. This absolute validation framework guarantees results that can be trusted while ensuring consumer safety.

Written and posted by: LGC Standards

From solubility to efficacy: how X-ray powder diffraction is improving drug bioavailability

In this four-part blog series, we explore how one type of solid form analysis – X-ray powder diffraction (XRPD) – is helping drug developers optimize the solubility and performance of drugs. We begin in this blog with a focus on how applying XRPD helps achieve the quality target product profiles (QTPPs) required to demonstrate that a drug ‘ticks all the boxes’.

The challenges of poor drug solubility in drug development

For a small molecule drug to have the correct bioavailability, ensuring the desired solubility of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) is crucial. However, drug solubility is a major challenge in drug development: around 75% of drugs in development are poorly soluble, which can severely impact the desired efficacy of new life-changing therapies.

In efforts to improve the efficacy of these products, researchers are working to optimize API solubility. This involves carrying out solid form analysis to identify and characterize the various crystalline, amorphous, salts and solvate forms of compounds. Solid form analysis helps provide a clear understanding of an API and all its forms, thus enabling its optimization and control for processability and bioavailability. In the bigger picture, this can improve the efficacy and safety of the drug product and improve its chances of regulatory approval and clinical success.

One of the leading ways to perform solid form analysis is with the use of X-ray powder diffraction (XRPD). Here, we discuss how XRPD helps develop and improve pharmaceutical formulations, with particular emphasis on achieving drug quality criteria.

What is XRPD?

XRPD is a rapid analytical technique primarily used for phase identification of crystalline materials. It detects the X-ray diffraction patterns of analytes, providing information about unit dimensions and proportions. XRPD can assess the amorphous or crystalline nature of the API, helping to evaluate properties like the physical stability and manufacturability of a drug, as well as its solubility in a biological system.

Hitting Quality Target Product Profiles (QTPPs) with XRPD

XRPD can provide a detailed fingerprint of the crystalline size and microstructure of APIs in a dosage form. The technique enables researchers to assess an API’s solid form, providing information about how this might affect its solubility and stability in different dosage forms. Detailed information about different polymorphs of an API, for example, can support predictions about the safety, performance or efficacy of the drug product. XRPD can be used to measure some of the Critical Material Attributes (CMAs) needed to demonstrate that the drug product meets its QTPP. The QTPP considers the route of administration, dosage form, bioavailability, etc., as it relates to quality, safety and efficacy.

The latest XRPD solid form analysis techniques provide valuable evidence for Critical Quality Attribute (CQA) definition in support of the QTPP, by enabling researchers to:

  • Select more soluble forms of an API
  • Choose stable forms with enhanced manufacturability and storage profiles
  • Identify and exclude polymorphs that may compromise a drug’s efficacy or safety
  • Investigate solid form alternatives (polymorphs, salts, co-crystals, etc.)
  • Ensure that all relevant polymorphs are identified and described in related patents

Gathering such physicochemical data is vital at multiple steps of the drug development process. Solubility and stability of the drug substance must be maintained as the API moves from the early development phase into the clinic and towards the goal of approval, and XRPD is a helpful technique to monitor this.

XRPD is a powerful tool to help establish, confirm or optimize pharmaceutical CMAs. Its ability to detect and give predictions on changes to the solubility and stability of a drug provides researchers with critical information during drug development, from concept to manufacturing. In the next blog of this series, we will discuss how understanding the presence of polymorphic forms in drug substances can protect your patients and patents.

Download the full guide here to find out more about how XRPD can help your drug development projects

 

Written by: Robert Taylor, Posted by: Malvern Panalytical (www.materials-talks.com)