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Braidy Atlas says 'founding customer' carmaker BMW to cooperate with US aluminum mill

New York — The $1.7 billion aluminum rolling mill being built by Braidy Industries in Kentucky will cooperate with automaker BMW on technically qualifying a future supply of series 5000x and 6000x aluminum sheet, Braidy Industries said Monday.

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The mill, expected to be fully operational in 2021 with 300,000 mt/year capacity of finished aluminum, has sold 200% of its capacity through 2025, Braidy Industries has said.

"BMW was a founding customer," Braidy Industries CEO Craig Bouchard said in an email to S&P Global Platts. "We reached 200% [of capacity, or 600,000 mt] after the announcement of the tariffs. It was 120% before."

The Trump administration imposed 10% import tariffs on aluminum in March 2018 after a Section 232 investigation into the effects of aluminum and steel imports on national security.

The order interest came as a surprise to Braidy, prompting it to use "an allocation system of allowing the founding customers to turn their non-binding but sticky agreements with us into long-term, binding commercial agreements," said Bouchard, adding "five of our founding customers have taken advantage of this." The order interest covers about 40% of the 300,000 mt finished capacity, he said.

Braidy typically does not name its customers, but Bouchard confirmed BMW as one. Others include seven original equipment manufacturers and 14 service centers.

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BMW North America did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Current US demand for automotive-grade aluminum sheet is about 900,000 mt/year, according to Credit Suisse, which sees the market as relatively balanced through 2022. That demand could top 1.25 million mt by 2022, according to Braidy's chief operating officer, Blaine Holt, speaking in January at the Platts Aluminum Symposium.

In a separate statement Monday, Braidy said its "milestone plan" to collaborate with BMW includes a comprehensive closed-loop recycling strategy, leveraging its Braidy Atlas mill's "logistically optimal location" in Ashland, Kentucky, not far from BMW's car production plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The Kentucky facility will be built within a day's drive of 50% of US automotive production.

Braidy Atlas recently announced its intention to become the first North American rolling mill to use 100% green inputs from inception. As the first US rolling mill to obtain a low-emissions air permit from the US Environmental Protection Agency, Braidy has targeted 20% lower emissions than competitors, it said in its statement.

"Our low-cost, high-quality, low-carbon footprint allows material improvement in global supply chain costs for BMW as a key customer," Bouchard said in the statement.

Gregory Barker, executive chairman of EN+ and recently named co-chairman of Braidy Atlas, called the collaboration with BWM "groundmaking ... just the beginning of opportunities as we competitively combine the highest quality aluminum with the lowest-carbon content yet, together setting an exciting new standard not just for North America but our industry globally."

EN+ owns Russia-based aluminum producer Rusal. Two weeks ago, Rusal and Braidy signed a letter of intent, with Rusal to serve as an exclusive supplier of aluminum slab and P1020 to the mill, and committing to invest up to $200 million in the Braidy Atlas mill.

-- Joe Innace, joseph.innace@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Richard Rubin, newsdesk@spglobal.com