Published in Manufacturing

2 new Shape partnerships bringing more sustainable materials to auto industry

BY Sunday, July 03, 2022 06:04pm

West Michigan Tier 1 automotive supplier is leveraging two longstanding partnerships with overseas metal providers in an effort to bring more sustainable materials to the auto industry.

Over the last month, Grand Haven-based Shape Corp. announced that it is working with Norway-based Norsk Hydro ASA, which produces a patented brand of sustainable aluminum, and Sweden’s SSAB AB, which provides fossil fuel-free steel.

With these partnerships, not only is Shape — which specializes in lightweighting and impact energy management structures — reducing its own carbon footprint, but it’s also pioneering the use of these sustainable materials in the U.S. automotive market.

“One of the key areas we’re trying to focus on is the parts themselves and the recyclability of the parts,” said Shape Chief Technology Officer Ed Pleet. 

“We see the interest and desire growing significantly, certainly from the OEMs and from us,” Pleet added. “Frankly, some of the limitations are technology and the capabilities in the marketplace and industry. What’s really special about this is it’s the first application for automotive to leverage a material with a reduced carbon footprint that can still deliver on the objective.”


(Not so) heavy metal

Shape in early June announced its plans to enhance a longstanding relationship with Hydro, which produces an aluminum product called Hydro CIRCAL. This material contains 75 percent post-consumer aluminum scrap and leads the market with its minimal carbon footprint.

The partnership stems from Shape’s purchase of Ohio-based aluminum extruder Magnode LLC. Since the acquisition, Shape has worked with Hydro on alloy and material development with the idea of delivering automotive parts for various OEMs around the world.

“We’ve seen really tremendous growth together with the relationship but also in the marketplace for leveraging materials and extrusions,” Pleet said.

Both Pleet and Trond Gjellesvik, president of Hydro Aluminum Metals, spoke about the opportunities for parts made with Hydro CIRCAL as the automotive industry increasingly electrifies and OEMs realize the need for equally green solutions for crash management and lightweighting solutions.

“Aluminum is a product that can be recycled infinitely — close to 75 percent of all aluminum ever produced is still out there in use somewhere,” Gjellesvik told MiBiz. “It’s maybe on its second or third life. To be able to add technologies to be able to use more of this post-consumer, end-of-life scrap and bring it back to client products in automotive is the mission.”

The initiative comes as sustainability is increasingly important for most OEMs, putting pressure all the way down the supply chain to help in the pursuit of carbon reduction.

“If you take a list of all the auto companies, when they’re declaring themselves to be carbon neutral, there is a clear roadmap there that they’re starting to work toward and that will require quite a shift in their material choices. That’s why it’s very important that we as an aluminum producer and Shape as a parts producer position ourselves in that way,” Gjellesvik said.

The partnership between Shape and Hydro will strengthen with a new aluminum recycling plant in Cassopolis, on which Hydro broke ground in April. The company plans to start production there at the end of the year, producing roughly 265 million pounds of aluminum extrusion ingot each year. The facility will keep Shape well fed.

Hydro also supplies Shape with material produced in its facilities in both Texas and Kentucky.

After announcing its partnership with Hydro, Shape followed with an additional announcement that it would be the first Tier 1 auto supplier to use fossil fuel-free steel crash management and body structure systems through its partnership with Swedish steel maker SSAB.

Shape is testing the company’s fossil fuel-free brand of steel, which is created from hydrogen-reduced sponge iron, with the goal of bringing it to market by 2026.

“Shape continues to lead the industry with innovative, lightweight solutions for next generation vehicles,” Shape CEO Mark White said upon announcing the new endeavor.

“Our long-standing partnership with SSAB is built on years of collaboration and mutual respect between our companies. I am extremely excited to partner with SSAB to commercialize their new fossil-free Hybrid steel technology and to be the first to market crash management and body structure applications for our customers,” White added.

The idea of, and aspiration for, parts made from sustainable materials is certainly not new, but it was previously impractical.

“We see a lot of interest from the OEMs, but the technology and capabilities in the raw material space is really limited at this point,” Pleet said. “It’s exciting to be able to work with Hydro to add something that the OEMs are really excited about, and something we’re certainly excited about.”

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