Earlier this month the United States Congress passed into law President Joe Biden’s US$1.2 trillion infrastructure package. The Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act (or the INVEST in America Act) will allocate US$550 billion for the country’s infrastructure over the next five years and will provide funding across a wide array of areas, ranging from bridges and roads to broadband and energy systems.
Aluminium industry experts say the new federal funding allocation has a tremendous upside for the aluminium industry, as the versatile metal has become an integral part of infrastructural and technological advances in the 21st century.
Norsk Hydro’s VP of Finance and Strategy Michael Stier spoke with Aluminium Insider last week on various aspects of the bill and its impact on the aluminium market. In the interview, Stier said that infrastructure firms may face challenges meeting the demand they have for the metal.
“In the years since Section 232 tariffs were implemented for aluminum products, there have been a number of impacts, both big and small, to the domestic aluminum industry. For the most part, however, the industry has stabilized and learned to deal with the tariffs and quotas that have been put in place. The larger issues at-hand today are significant shortages of labor, scrap metal, and key alloying elements like magnesium. These factors have come together to create tightness of supply for both primary and secondary aluminum, significantly limit the ability of downstream manufacturers to produce infrastructure-related products, and increase the end-user price of these aluminum products.”
Although demand for aluminium is expected to rise significantly overall, Stier says the boon may not be as strong for low-carbon aluminium among American buyers as it might have been in other countries.
“The American consumer still lags behind much of the developed world with regards to their willingness to pay for ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ products. That said, major climate events of the past few years appear to be increasing the willingness of consumers to recognize climate change as an existential threat to the American way of life. When it comes to industry and government, we certainly see a shift in the purchasing habits of manufacturers as well as local, state, and federal government entities. The amount of life cycle and carbon footprint data being requested at a material and/or product level has increased significantly over the past several years and we only expect that to continue. We are quickly reaching a crux where the desire and need for sustainable products will be met with a willingness to pay a corresponding premium for these products, but we are not there yet…”
Nevertheless, the infrastructure bill will still be a significant boon to the aluminium industry, reckons Stier, as several new and emerging technologies receiving funding are highly dependent upon aluminium and aluminium alloys.
“We are excited to see significant investments in public transit, electric vehicles, and charging infrastructure included in the bill,” he explained. “All of these pieces of infrastructure will rely heavily on aluminum as means to reduce vehicle weight, improve efficiency, and enable clever design solutions. We are particularly excited to see new developments within electric vehicle chassis design and battery systems in combination with the phase-change developments needed to normalize charging technology and infrastructure in North America.”