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Mechanics of Materials Research Impacts US Aluminum Industry, Energy, and Environment

Initially posted on Applied Mechanics News on 28 April 2007.

Hot rolling from ingot is the dominant fabrication method of producing plate, sheet, and foil aluminum products. It is a striking fact that the total rolling-plant recovery of aluminum process from ingot to final products is typically about 50%. This recovery loss causes enormous amount of energy waste both as remelt energy and energy to process material that is just recycled. Assuming the annual US domestic net shipments of sheet and plate products being 10,500 million lb, 10% improvement of the hot rolling recovery will result annual savings of $126 million per year for the US domestic aluminum industry. The annual domestic energy savings would be 2.54 trillion Btu. The environmental benefits include annual reduction of 2.32 million lb SOx , 1.01 million lb NOx, 303.2 million lb CO2, 0.67 million lb of particulate, and 11000 lb VOCsd .

The fundamental inability to reduce or eliminate these recovery losses is “lack of the integrated models that relate structural properties to manufacturing processes”. Currently, processing parameters are determined by trial and error and largely based on experience. This makes it difficult to optimize the process even on the macroscale level, and almost impossible from microstructure level. Research in the following areas are desirable:

  • Develop integrated models to link microstructures to macroscopic properties of aluminum and rolling process parameters.
  • Predict temperature, stress, strain, strain rate history, and damage revolution in hot rolling.
  • Optimize processing parameters to reduce scrap in hot rolling, and validate the integrated models.
  • Demonstrate the predictive ability of integrated model as a process optimization tool for hot rolling.


Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Ming:

In reading your entry, I learned the economic scale of the hot-rolling problem, and several research directions, which are clearly compatible to long term goals of many academic mechanicians. To make this dialogue even more useful, you might consider writing a series of entries on the topic. Specific ideas for entries may include

Further discussions of the problem and research directions that you raised in this blog entry. Do you have any references that discuss current status of the problem? If an academic mechanician would like to work with you or your colleagues, where should they start? Over the years you have had experience collaborating with academic mechanicians. Some guidance from you will be helpful to many of us.

The life cycle of aluminum, from ores to Coca-Cola cans or whatever. When we met last time at Legal Seafood in Cambridge, you gave a fascinating account of how Alcoa met the challenge of energy crisis and globalization. A blog entry along this line would have wide appeal.

The engineering practice at Alcoa. Many of academic mechanicians would love to learn how industrial mechanicians solve engineering problems. What tools do you use? What process do you go through? What skills do you value? You must have many examples of problem solving.

Ji Wang's picture

There are certain industries benefit and demand more from Mechanicians such as steel, auto, construction, space, and so on.

On the other hand, it is important for Mechanicians to keep a good attitude as Zhigang to explore the opportunities for Mechanicians.

There are different ways to explore industrial applications, and the outcomes are not always positive or money.  However, it is always important to find places and ways we can survive as people live on other people's money:-)

 Personally, I have been approachingindustries in different ways including organizing group meetings with management.  We can also do it as a fact-finding mission.  In anyway, we need to find out the technical problems we can solve and promise solutions we can deliver.  Of course, we need to make sure the industry willalso benefit.


Zhigang, Ji Wang, and all who read my post;

Thank you all.  I will try to do what Zhigang suggested.  In next few months, I will try to put my thoughts in an organized way hoping be efficient for all.

 Thanks, Zhigang, for your great effort on iMechanica. 

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