When it comes to radiators, the battle lines have
been drawn between copper and aluminum as metal suppliers in
opposing camps tout the advantages of their product and further
potential for improvements.
Aluminum has clearly taken the dominant role,
controlling 95 percent of the global light-vehicle radiator
market in 2008 in North America, Japan, South Korea, all of
Europe (excluding Russia) and Ukraine, according to Richard
Schultz, project consultant for Ducker Worldwide LLC, Troy,
The consensus was mixed, though, on which metal
currently holds the majority of the world's heavy-vehicle
The trend in China is even more pronounced, with
aluminum forecast to hold a whopping 99 percent of the car
radiator market this year and 100 percent by 2010, according to
data from Fourin China Auto Weekly, a unit of Aichi,
Japan-based Fourin Inc. The trend isn't limited to just cars
aluminum radiators are expected to hold 90 percent of the
market for buses and mini-, light-, medium- and heavy-duty
trucks by 2010, up from an estimated 50 percent this year.
But that doesn't mean copper should be eliminated
as a contender. Copper suppliers remain adamant that the red
metal stands as a valid alternative to aluminum.
Copper-based products haven't yet reached their
full potential, according to product experts at Luvata Sweden
AB, a Vasteras, Sweden-based supplier of fabricated copper to
the auto radiator market.
Luvata, in cooperation with the New York-based
International Copper Association (ICA), has been working to
improve its traditional copper-brass radiators through the
emerging CuproBraze technology. The technology makes use of
brazing-similar, but not identical to, aluminum brazing-instead
of traditional soldering to join copper and brass radiator
components, with the result purportedly being a stronger,
lighter and more corrosion-resistant product.
Development of the technology by the ICA came in
response to the shift to aluminum, which began more than two
decades ago-a trend that spread from Europe to the United
States before heading to Asia as the industry sought a lighter,
cheaper and lead-free metal for use in radiators.
Proponents of the technology argue that while
copper does indeed still have significant room for improvement,
aluminum faces a virtual standstill as key advancements with
the metal have already been made.
"CuproBraze technology has a really huge
development potential for at least the next 30 years,"
according to Ulf Anvin, market segment manager of Luvata's
Engine Cooling North America division, and Markku Ainali,
Luvata's general manager of customer product development. "On
the other hand, aluminum brazing has been in the market for 30
years and has started to be old, and we don't see so many new
advantages coming out of it."
Since the first CuproBraze plant debuted some eight
years ago, there has been growing awareness and interest in the
technology, the Luvata managers said. Luvata believes that
CuproBraze will become more relevant amid stricter regulation
of diesel engine emissions as engine manufacturers drive for
cleaner emissions in the next few years by increasing the
pressure and heat in radiators-areas in which copper should
hold a clear advantage, Anvin and Ainali said.
As currently designed, aluminum radiators likely
would have to use pre-coolers made of stainless steel as a
primary means for absorbing heat. However, this would be
unnecessary with the CuproBraze technology, they said, adding
that technical advantages such as these outweigh the relatively
higher cost of using copper.
Luvata estimates that there will be at least 1.5
million CuproBraze heat exchangers in operation by yearend
2008, with the market growing at an annual rate of 15 percent.
Most sales will be to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)
for heavy-vehicle applications in Russia, the United States and
China. Notable users of the CuproBraze technology include the
Kohler Power Systems unit of Kohler Co. in Kohler, Wis.;
Siemens Transportation Systems Group, Erlangen, Germany; and
Nanning Baling Technology Inc., based in Nanning in China's
Aluminum companies disagree, arguing that the
development of aluminum-brazing technology is far from over and
the trend continues to favor aluminum.
Two years ago, Novelis Inc., an Atlanta-based
company specializing in aluminum rolling and recycling,
launched its Novelis Fusion casting technology, which allows
the simultaneous solidification of multiple alloy layers into a
single aluminum rolling ingot for aluminum brazing sheet
(AMM, July, 2007). This leads to faster production
time, cladding uniformity and clean and oxide-free clad, the
company said. Like most of its competitors, Novelis previously
relied heavily on the cladding of aluminum.
"We have not yet fully realized all the potential
benefits this new technology can bring to aluminum brazing
sheet, but we will be working with our customers to look at the
new capabilities and opportunities it provides to make aluminum
brazing sheet even better in the future," a Novelis spokesman
An Alcoa Inc. spokesman agreed, noting that the
Pittsburgh-based company, which has an aluminum brazing
business, doesn't believe the CuproBraze technology will be as
popular as aluminum in light or heavy vehicles, given the cost
differential between the red metal and aluminum. "What is the
cost of aluminum vs copper? That's the first step," he said.
"The use of aluminum in those applications is growing just as
the overall use of aluminum is expanding. Aluminum is now the
second most widely used material in the automotive industry.
And people are not big proponents of moving from one material
back to another."
Aluminum manufacturers are armed with plenty of
evidence to back-up their claims. They're expanding production
of aluminum radiators with new investments and roll-outs
The Novelis Fusion technology first entered
production in March 2006 at the company's Oswego, N.Y., plant.
Earlier this year, the company began production at a
130,000-tonne-per-year Novelis Fusion casthouse at its Sierre,
Switzerland, facility and completed the installation of the
technology in South Korea in June (AMM, July 1). It
also plans to install Novelis Fusion facilities in South
In February, Alcoa completed an $83-million,
26-month modernization project at its Alcoa-Kofem operations in
Szekesfehervar, Hungary, to expand sheet product offerings and
add airfoil castings and Dura-Bright wheel manufacturing at the
plant. The core of the investment was the modernization of
Alcoa European Mill Products, which involved expanding brazing
sheet capability to offer a full range of gauges for markets,
including the automotive and heat-exchanger sectors
(AMM, Feb. 22).
Whatever these technologies bring to bear, the
aluminum vs. copper battle in the heat-transfer segment of the
vehicle market appears poised to run red hot on for some