Aluminum is an essential material for industrial and consumer markets worldwide. It has become increasingly important in the production of automobiles and trucks, packaging of food and beverages, construction of buildings, transmission of electricity, development of transportation infrastructures, production of defense and aerospace equipment, manufacture of machinery and tools, and production of durable consumer products. Aluminum's unique properties, including light weight, high strength, and resistance to corrosion make it suitable for a variety of special applications and it is cost effective to recycle. As demand for more technologically complex and ecologically sustainable products increases, opportunities for aluminum will continue to expand.
While the opportunities are growing, aluminum must continue to compete with various materials that offer lower cost, lighter weight, or other competitive advantages. Aluminum companies must continue to innovate to provide customers with better enabling technologies and superior materials with unique properties. Aluminum manufacturers must explore new process technologies to drive down production costs and make aluminum more competitive. Over the next two decades, investment in research and technology development may likely be the most important factor in product competitiveness.
On November 19 and 20, 1996, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Aluminum Association jointly sponsored the Aluminum Technology Roadmap Workshop. Its purpose was to help identify the key performance targets, technology barriers, and research needs of the aluminum industry. The workshop grew out of ajoint effort between the Aluminum Association and the Department of Energy's Office of Industrial Technologies (OIT) to help the aluminum industry increase energy efficiency, reduce waste, and increase productivity. In March 1996, the aluminum industry outlined its vision for maintaining and building its competitive position in worldwide markets in the document Partnerships for the Future. The industry reaffirmed its commitment to the goals outlined in Partnerships by forming a partnership with the Department of Energy that was signed by Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary and Aluminum Association President David Parker on October 9, 1996. This industry/government partnership enables the aluminum industry and the federal government to align their research and development efforts to meet common R&D goals.
The Aluminum Technology Roadmap Workshop brought together 37 experts from the aluminum industry, its customer industries, universities, and government research programs. The 1½-day workshop addressed the technology barriers and research needs of the entire industry including primary, semifabricated, and finished product sectors. The core of the workshop was four facilitated work sessions in which participants explored in detail the technology requirements of primary products, casting, rolling and extrusion, and finished products. These work sessions resulted in over 160 research ideas of which about half were considered priority. Exhibit ES-1 lists the top research thrusts for each work group.
The work group participants also analyzed the research ideas to help describe key characteristics that are important for research planning. Each group analyzed the appropriate time frame in which each research thrust is expected to yield benefits. Research activities were assigned to one of three time frames: near- (0-3 years), mid- (3-10 years), and long-term (beyond 10 years). The participants also indicated the anticipated roles for industry and government in supporting selected research activities. Three categories were used: single company research, industry-industry collaborations, and industry-government partnerships. Finally, participants identified important interrelationships and linkages among research activities within their industry segment. The results of these efforts are described in this report and will help to shape a comprehensive technology strategy for implementing aluminum industry goals.
In closing remarks, the workshop participants strongly voiced the need to follow through with the important research ideas identified by the participants. They urged the Aluminum Association and the aluminum companies to use the momentum of the workshop to take bold steps toward pursuing collaborative research opportunities for mutual benefit.