Magnesium – Is it Really The Metal of the Future?

Published on 29 Oct, 2015

Magnesium - Future Metal?

Over the decades, harmful emissions from the automotive industry (such as those from cars and trucks) have negatively impacted the environment and human health.

Growing environmental degradation has prompted government agencies to impose strict regulations on automakers in order to bring emissions under permissible limits. Many automakers have been researching heavily on the different techniques to curb emissions and adhere to set standards.

Weight reduction is one such strategy that automakers have adopted to curb emissions from vehicles and increase fuel economy. Research suggests that replacing different heavy components of an automobile with lighter materials has demonstrated significant success in achieving weight reduction.

Leading automakers such as GM, Toyota and BMW have shown keen interest in Magnesium (Mg) as an attractive metal for automotive use, mainly because its weight is around 35% less than Aluminum (Al) and around 75% less than Iron (Fe).

Furthermore, magnesium, when alloyed, has the highest strength-to-weight ratio compared to other metals, and is recyclable.

Due to these benefits and its abundant availability, the metal has found a strong foothold in various automotive parts such as engine blocks, bed plates, transfer cases, clutch housings, cradles and interior components.

Considering its benefits over other metals, is magnesium the hot metal of the future for automakers?

The answer may be vague at this stage, but let us shed some light on the negative impacts of the magnesium extraction process on the environment and human health.

Mining magnesium for industrial use leads to the emission of greenhouse gases such as sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrochloric acid (HCL) and carbon monoxide, which pollute the environment.

During the extraction process, magnesium reacts with underground water and pollutes groundwater reserves. This significantly impacts human life by rendering the water useless for domestic and agricultural purposes. It also affects wildlife habitats and fauna that depend on such reserves.

Magnesium and its alloys are highly flammable and explosive compared to aluminum and HSS steel, thus posing a risk to human life during the mining process.

Although magnesium possesses better properties than aluminum and steel, in terms of producing a light-weight automobile, automakers must look at the whole picture before selecting materials; ensuring that the environment is unharmed during the extraction and processing stages.

Automakers ought to look into mix-metal compositions such as a mix of aluminum, calcium and magnesium, rather than solely depending on magnesium.

There’s also a dire need for significant research into magnesium recycling technologies that could considerably reduce its environmental impact.