Reflections on the TMS 2019

Most years the TMS Annual Meeting & Exhibition is held in a southern USA city, where the climate is not too hot and not too cold. This years location was San Antonio, Texas. Although the weather reports called for rain, it was actually rather mixed with the majority of the rain experienced in the overnight hours while the sun broke through most of the day.

The conference papers themselves were quite good, especially the opening sessions where there were presentations on supply/demand balance and new technologies under development. 

In General, although there is a sense of pause at the moment, it is good to know that all still remain bullish on the market with an expected growth to 90 mil tonnes/year in demand from primary by 2040 or a growth of some 25 million tonnes over the next 20 years.

Although some of this growth can be served through bringing back online existing idle capacity or even via creep capacity increases, it still nevertheless leaves a requirement for new or major smelter expansions.

For me this is a very interesting topic as there are many debates about where an increasing demand can and in some cases should be met, including the merits of whether to bring idle capacity back online, also is a 50/50 split with China on supply demand expected or will the balance shift even further, where is the energy coming from, and the list goes on. Anyway, this is a separate topic for further discussion.

With the backdrop of demand remaining somewhat bullish over the next 20 years, the complimentary focus on energy sources, efficiency and of course discussions around the overall green footprint, were welcomed discussions both within the sessions and also at the coffee table. Again, many questions about Elysis technology on inert anode, the timing and large scale implementation of such new technologies, as well as the impact on existing operations are some of the big questions. Although Elysis target for implementation around 2024, there is still a view that existing technologies will exist for some time after the initial implementation.

Another common theme from many of the papers was the drive towards future analytics and possible efficiencies gained, whether through simple automation or through advanced data collection and feedback loops.

It is clear that future smelters will be much more automated than the past ones were but whether we get to a fully autonomous operating plant (and what is the cost/benefit equation), is still many years away, but the vision is there.

To realize such a dream will require all parties with a vested interest to be open and learn from one another as a team. Today there is still some apprehension with respect to knowledge sharing and protection of what might be considered IP or ones competitive advantage. We are advancing quickly and in time with proper controls in place this obstacle will be overcome, opening the door even further for collaboration.

We at Outotec are also playing our part in the new smelter design through further automation of our technological processes with a focus on both improving efficiencies while also improving predictability for more stable operations.

We will be presenting at the upcoming CRU World Aluminium Conference in April and also at the Future Aluminium Forum in May.

We look forward to seeing you there! 

Paul Merlin | Vice President, Sales & Business Development, Aluminum Business Line

Paul is responsible for Sales and Business Development of our Alumina and Aluminum activities. He has held many senior roles within Outotec and was instrumental in Outotec’s expansion into the Aluminium industry.