From solar panels to Apple’s i-Pad, aluminum is niche-picking new markets

Jul 01, 2010 | 06:39 AM |

What does an Apple iPad have in common with solar power technology infrastructure? More than you might think. According to some aluminum producers, both markets are primed for serious growth and offer an exciting opportunity for the aluminum sector.

Analysts are hesitant to overstate the impact that growth in consumer electronics and solar power components—even ones that prominently feature specialty aluminum components—might have on overall aluminum demand, but in the age of weaker automotive sales and a lagging construction market, aluminum producers said any chance at increased market share is a worthwhile one.

The most visible new end-use application for aluminum comes in portable sizes. Some of today's most popular consumer electronics feature visible aluminum components, like Apple's new iPad sporting a matte aluminum wrap, which passed the 1-million-unit sales mark in the first week of May. As Apple and other high-end original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) shift fashion and consumer taste away from plastic and magnesium and toward aluminum, how much benefit will the aluminum market really experience?

Perhaps a lot, according to Randall Scheps, who earlier this year was appointed to Alcoa Inc.'s newly created position of director of consumer electronics market development.

Aluminum use in consumer electronics is projected to more than double in the next five years as consumers increasingly demand electronics that they perceive to be both stylish and environmentally friendly, Scheps said. Aesthetically, aluminum is less likely to show fingerprints and signs of wear than alternative materials, like chrome or polished plastic, and environmentally aluminum is one of the most recycled materials in the world.....

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