Engineering Materials

Is a magnesium-shortage tsunami about to slam the automotive industry?

Decrease your dependency on magnesium and aluminum with magnesium-free advanced materials   

First came supply chain issues, then the microchip shortage, and now a magnesium shortage. A vital metal that is mixed with aluminum to form an alloy and used in many automotive components, approximately 90% of the world’s supply of magnesium comes from China. Since September magnesium smelters in China have either shut down or halved their production capacities due to the energy crisis.  

The current shortage has already resulted in record prices and supply chain issues in the European Union. The EU is very much dependent on China for magnesium, and there is concern that the magnesium already supplied to the EU (exported from China) may run out by the end of 2021. A cross-industry coalition and workers, including the ACEA Driving Mobility for Europe, are warning of an international supply crisis of unprecedented magnitude, Magnesium supply shortage: cross-industry coalition and workers warn against catastrophic impact.

Source: NationMaster, Magnesium Production Capacity

Although the U.S. has a domestic supply of magnesium, prices of vehicles could still easily increase. Costs of vehicles are already the highest they have ever been due to the microchip shortage, and if this magnesium dynamic hits the U.S., it will raise prices even more, according to Bernard Swiecki, director of research for the Center of Automotive Research in the report Magnesium shortage impacts auto industry globally.

In U.S. the average transaction value is over $45,000 per vehicle. In the EU, the average list price for C-Segment models has grown a full 63% from 2002 to 2020, while B-Segment vehicles saw a 59% increase in the same period, according to a report on the German website Automobilwoche. The shortage could also lead to the possibility of plant closures—OEMS cannot sell millions of cars without a suitable alternative to metal replacement.

Why is magnesium so important to the auto industry?

The addition of magnesium to aluminum alloys increases its strength via solid solution strengthening, improving strain hardening ability. These aluminum alloys with magnesium added are the highest strength non heat-treatable aluminum alloys and are used extensively for structural applications, such as engine mounts and brackets, cross car beams, gears and bearing cages, lightweight air springs, door handles, seat structures, and more.

Also, pure magnesium helps to lightweight vehicles because it is the lightest structural metal currently available in the world. It is approximately 34% lighter by volume than aluminum and 50% lighter than titanium. Other advantages of using magnesium are excellent fatigue resistance, denting and buckling resistance, and the highest known damping capacity of any structural metal. The fact that there is no suitable magnesium alternative for aluminum alloys, and magnesium cannot be stored for long because of oxidation and risk of flammability, makes the supply issue even more critical.

Overcoming magnesium supply concerns

Metal to plastic replacement is a common approach in the automotive industry to decrease weight and the cost of components, and various parts are already realized with advanced engineering plastics. However, during the last two decades the need to switch from aluminum to engineering plastics was never as urgent as it is now. Suitable engineering plastics alternatives can not only lower total weight, increase design flexibility and take out system cost, these engineering plastics can now secure the opportunity to get components manufactured and cars on the road. The alternative—continuing to use magnesium and aluminum while there is a supply shortage of magnesium—could hit the automotive supply chain hard, forcing entire assembly lines to shut down.

DSM's advanced materials solutions are not affected by the magnesium shortage at all, making them a great alternative to metal. Our materials help you to lightweight vehicles—up to 50% weight reduction vs. aluminum. Plus, our materials allow sleek design with high flexibility, improving overall efficacy of the module vs. aluminum/magnesium alloys or pure magnesium designs.

Engineering plastics offer higher manufacturing productivity due to 5x longer tool life of plastics compared to aluminum, along with these features: 

  • Versus aluminum/magnesium and magnesium, engineering plastics do not require secondary finishing processes, such as drilling, sanding, painting, etc.
  • Engineering plastics are inherently corrosion and oxidation resistant.
  • Many of our materials are biobased, post-consumer recycled or chemically recycled without the need for any material requalification.
  • By 2030, DSM Engineering Materials will offer a full alternative range of our existing portfolio based on bio- and/or recycled-based materials.
  • We have multiple compounding sites with global, identical compound specifications in the EU, U.S. and Asia, enabling reliability and fast supply.

Contact us today to learn more about our advanced materials that can replace metal in structural components, freeing you from the magnesium shortage.

Published on

22 November 2021


  • Blog
  • Automotive
  • Metal replacement

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Candace Roulo

Global Manager of Messaging and Content Development

Candace Roulo is Global Manager of Messaging and Content Development for DSM Engineering Materials. Based in Troy, Michigan, she specializes in writing blogs and articles about advanced materials solutions. Prior to joining DSM, Candace served in editorial roles at SME and Penton Media. Candace earned her bachelor’s degree in communication, specializing in public relations, at Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences.

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