Alcoa announced today that it is expanding its aluminum lithium (Al-Li) capacity and capabilities at three locations to meet growing aerospace demand for its newest alloys. These alloys, introduced last year and now patented, allow OEMs to build dramatically lighter and lower-cost airplanes compared to composite alternatives.
This news is important when looking at what OEMs are doing developing ever lighter airplanes. Airbus (A350) and Boeing (787) have selected the CRFP route whereas Bombardier has gone the Al-Li route for its CS. Alcoa believes its product offers less risk to OEMs than CFRP. While CFRP is well known in military use, it has been used less on commercial airplanes until quite recently.
ALCOA further states that its new technologies:
- lower the weight of an airplane by up to 10% vs. composite-intensive planes;
- lower the cost to manufacture, operate and repair planes by up to 30% vs. composite-intensive planes, and at significantly lower production risk;
- allow for a 12% increase in fuel efficiency, on top of the 15% from new engines; and
- deliver passenger comfort features equivalent to composite-intensive planes, such as higher cabin pressure, large windows and higher humidity.
The last two items deserve special attention. Offering this much in fuel savings is highly significant and then being able to allow for larger windows (like on the 787) and better cabin pressure/humidity is compelling.