India’s National Aluminium Company (Nalco) and Indian Defence Ministry’s Mishra Dhatu Nigam Ltd (MIDHANI) are in negotiations aimed at establishing an aluminium-lithium alloy plant. The two state-owned entities intend to capitalize upon the myriad of new uses for the alloy in, among other places, the defense sector.
Highlighted by its use in Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Tesla Motors ventures, lithium is currently in demand for high-performance and extreme applications. Lithium-aluminium alloys, as they are simultaneously strong and light, have been used extensively in SpaceX’s spacecraft and Tesla Motor’s high-end batteries. NASA’s liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks are composed of the same alloy as well.
“Lithium-aluminium alloy is an extremely expensive alloy (sells for around Rs 40 lakh [US$59,570] a tonne),” explained Nalco Chairman Tapan Kumar Chand. “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.”
MIDHANI is already in the specialized metals business, as it currently utilizes elements like cobalt, titanium, and nickel for their high strength-to-weight and anti-corrosion properties. The firm makes metals and alloys for use in nuclear, defense, aviation, and biomedical applications. MIDHANI is presently preparing a feasibility report for the project and the alloy’s use in defense, aerospace, and automotive sectors. It has already forged partnerships along the lines of the one in question with Bharat Heavy Electricals and Hindustan Shipyards for purposes of shipbuilding.
“Once project boundaries are firmed up, both companies are expected to sign the JV — may be within the next six months,” explained Chand. He went on to say that he believes the facility to cost about US$596 million, and it will be constructed in several phases. “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.