Nalco, MIDHANI plan to set up lithium-aluminium alloy plant (US)

Nasa aluminium lithium

The second single-piece 5.5 meter diameter full-scale spun form dome was manufactured from a flat plate “blank” made from two pieces of aluminum lithium 2195 plate which were friction stir welded together. (Credit photo @ MT Aerospace)

BHUBANESWAR: State-owned aluminium maker National Aluminium Company (Nalco) and the Defence Ministry’s Mishra Dhatu Nigam Ltd (MIDHANI) are in talks to set up an aluminium-lithium alloy plant.  Lithium is the hottest metal today, with its demand underlined by the Space X andTesla ventures of maverick entrepreneurElon Musk. Lithium-aluminium alloys meet the extremely strong but very light properties required for spacecraft and high-performance Tesla batteries. The tanks of freezing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen attached to NASA’s space shuttles are made of such alloys.  “Lithium-aluminium alloy is an extremely expensive alloy (sells for around Rs 40 lakh a tonne),” Nalco Chairman Tapan Kumar Chand told ET. “More importantly, it is critical to our strategic sectors. Given the ‘Make in India’ push in the defence sector and the plans of an energised ISRO, we see a good domestic market for this product.”  Using titanium, nickel and cobalt for their anti-corrosive and high strength to weight ratios, MIDHANI makes special metals and super alloys used in nuclear, defence, aviation and biomedical implants. Apart from being a supplier, it has also joined hands with Bharat Heavy Electricals and Hindustan Shipyards to build submarines.  A feasibility report for the project and the high-end applications of the alloy in defence, aerospace and automobile sectors is being prepared by MIDHANI. “Once project boundaries are firmed up, both companies are expected to sign the JV — may be within the next six months,” Chand said. He expects the facility, to be built in phases, to cost about Rs 4,000 crore. “The low-volume, high-value business could be built with a mother alloy plant at the Smelter and Power complex at Angul, Odisha and high-end alloy at MIDHANI’s Hyderabad plant,” he said.  To beat the cyclical blues of the primary commodities, Nalco, like its global peers, must diversify from lower-margin upstream operations. Hundred-year-old American firm Alcoa has gone as far as building the world’s largest aluminium-lithium aerospace plant, for example.

Nalco also has plans for a titanium slag to be built in partnership with the Department of Atomic Energy’s Indian Rare Earths Ltd. Key to the project, to be built at IREL’s Chhatrapur site in Odisha’s Ganjam district, is roping in an established technologysupplier.

Meanwhile, Nalco has decided to no longer pursue its nuclear power plans. Four years ago, the government had convinced cash-rich Nalco to partner with Nuclear Power Corporation of India in two nuclear plants. Last December, Parliament passed an amendment to the Atomic Energy Amendment Bill 2015 to accommodate also state-run companies that aren’t connected to the Department of Atomic Energy.

But the company decided against what it said is likely to be “heavy investments with long-gestation periods”.

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