In the tug-of-war between copper-brass and
aluminum radiator technology, analysts agree that aluminum has
clearly won the battle in the light, on-road vehicle sector.
The focus is now on the off-road, heavy-vehicle market.
Although aluminum holds the edge in the near
term, the emerging CuproBraze technology stands out as a bright
alternative to aluminum in the heavy-vehicle sector in the long
term. CuproBraze produces thinner, lighter copper radiators
with good corrosion resistance and repairability, greater
flexibility and tensile strength, easier cleaning and lower
material costs, according to those familiar with the
Currently, emerging challenges favor
aluminum's lighter weight over copper-based products, according
to Sandeep Kar, program manager of heavy truck technologies at
San Antonio-based market research firm Frost & Sullivan.
Record-high diesel fuel prices-$4.76 a gallon in mid-July-and
ever-tougher Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions
rules are steering heavy vehicle makers toward aluminum as the
best solution to weight-savings problems.
"Truck makers, fleet operators and end-users
are doing all they can to reduce the weight of the truck so
they can save diesel fuel costs," Kar said. "We are in an
environment of very incredible fuel prices, and that is
impacting the heavy truck design."
Most North American medium- to heavy-duty
trucks used copper radiators before early 2000, according to
Kar. The major shift to aluminum came after a series of EPA
diesel-emissions regulations were implemented in early 2000,
including an EPA mandate of a 90-percent reduction in diesel
emissions in all new heavy trucks by 2010.
Aluminum radiator manufacturers are investing
in research and development to meet customer needs. "Aluminum
radiators can now support that kind of aggressive heat
management," he said. "There are greater heat-dissipation
benefits from aluminum over copper. And because you can get
aluminum for a lower price and at a lighter weight, the choice
With the focus on fuel efficiency, future
aerodynamic advances seem likely to further swing the vote in
favor of aluminum, according to Kar. He said that designing a
truck with a longer and narrower nose for increased fuel
efficiency will favor aluminum, given the smaller radiator size
necessary to fit the nose.
Kar expects the changes to occur most rapidly
in off-highway heavy vocational trucks used in mining and
forestry because more power is needed to propel them. He
predicted that this section of the market will favor aluminum
radiators by 2010.
However, the one technological development
that might change the flow back to copper in the heavy-vehicle
market is the emerging CuproBraze heat-exchanger technology
that produces thinner, lighter copper radiators. "It's
definitely something to watch out for in the long term," Kar
said, because it marries the best qualities of copper and
aluminum. However, it likely will take the market until at
least 2012 to accept the product and begin implementing it on a
large scale, he added.
When copper radiator suppliers begin losing
their market share in the short- to medium-term, they might
promote CuproBraze more aggressively to catch up to aluminum.
But the product will be relatively expensive compared with
aluminum and traditional copper-brass radiators until producers
start to recoup their research and development costs. It also
will take a while before consumers overcome the stigma attached
to the original copper-brass radiators, which contained lead
and could be toxic.
Robert Weed, vice president of automotive and
original equipment manufacturing at the New York-based Copper
Development Association, touted copper radiators for their
strong thermal transfer capabilities, durability and operating
efficiency that give the technology an advantage over aluminum
in heavy-duty applications.
These qualities are particularly important
for heavy vehicles because they often have large turbo-charged
diesel engines, which require more-powerful cooling systems and
tend to run for long distances, sometimes under extreme
conditions, before they are serviced or replaced.
Weed believes that although copper-based
radiators will continue to hold onto a good portion of the
heavy-vehicle market, the CuproBraze technology won't
necessarily allow the red metal to recapture market share in
heavy-duty vehicles. The main barrier is the large push to
similar aluminum-brazing technology advocated by leading auto
parts suppliers like Kariya, Japan-based Denso Corp., whose
customers include Toyota Motor Corp., which has plants in
China, South Korea and North America.
While small in number, these large
heat-exchanger companies wield a lot of clout, and-given the
millions of dollars they've invested in the technology-are
unlikely to switch back to a copper-based product, even for
"I think we are going to see a much greater
gain in market share on the global scale than we will in North
America," Weed said.
While the die seemingly has already been cast
in North America, things are far less firm in developing
countries like China, where new radiator plants-some using
CuproBraze technology-are still being built, he said.
Tim Strelitz, president of California Metal-X
Inc., a Los Angeles-based brass ingot manufacturer dealing
heavily in radiators, agrees. He sees the potential for
original equipment manufacturers to gravitate to the new copper
radiators, but as long as aluminum is roughly one-third the
cost and density of copper the industry will continue to turn
to the light metal.
"Life is always about choices, and those
choices in business are always about cost," he said. "It's
always a tug-of-war. But copper as a radiator is much better
than aluminum over the greater course of time."