Aluminium, a leader in sustainability

This first issue of A&L for 2020 is particularly dedicated to eco-sustainability, a theme which fully reveals the great environmental friendliness of the light metal. Eco-sustainability is a great political challenge, the new EU Commission follows an ambitious path with a 1000 billion euro project to stop the decline of the industry and turn our old continent into a sustainable world power through the development of technologies, a trade policy, based on negotiations respecting the Paris climate treaties, which will need to be more aggressive in order to defend competitiveness and with sustainability as the central tool to make Europe the world’s leading green continent. This is also the path indicated in these days in Italy by the Ministry of Economic Development, which proposes stable measures and action tools to support growth, especially from a green economy standpoint. All of this is an extraordinary opportunity for aluminium, the second most widely used metal in the world, with global demand for primary aluminium expected to increase by another 13.5 million tons over the next five years. The valuable properties of the light metal must be exploited in the best possible way to contribute to the protection of the environment, this is considered a very sensitive issue by important segments using the metal such as automotive and packaging, it is evident that in the coming years the ecological footprint of the materials will make the difference. For energy-intensive productions such as aluminium, it is clear that only the use of clean energy sources will be able to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, thereby respecting the principles of sustainable development. But not all aluminium is the same, large excess production capacities, China being a case in point, are based on the production of energy from coal and their existence becomes possible either because environmental standards are neglected or because they are subsidized to cover the costs of complying with regulations. Not all aluminium is the same, we have to reward the most virtuous metal production techniques, with the lowest possible carbon footprint, such as primary metal from clean energy and all high technology remelting activities. Regarding primary aluminium, the growing demand for low environmental impact products has driven large companies to introduce new clean technologies, further reducing carbon inputs throughout the value chain. It is worth remembering that a few years ago RUSAL, with 95% of the electricity used by its smelters based on energy sources with low CO2 emissions, launched the specific brand ALLOW, Low CO2 Aluminium: the primary metal offered on the market with this brand has a low carbon footprint, with less than 4 tons of CO2 equivalent per ton compared to an average world industry rate of 12-15 tons. Rusal’s trend is also that of other leading companies such as Hydro Aluminium, with its own brand of low carbon primary aluminium Hydro Reduxa, coupled with the Hydro Circal proposal, a recycling metal with good properties and a very low level of CO2 emissions per ton. Other global light metal giants such as EGA (ASI Aluminium Stewardship Initiative Certified), Alcoa and Rio Tinto are on the same wavelength. There is also considerable attention to research regarding new production technologies which could improve upon, or provide alternatives to, the classic Hall-Heroult electrolysis. Recently, an announcement was made that Alcoa and Rio Tinto, in a joint venture which also includes Apple, are working to create an alternative production process compared to traditional smelting, which only results in oxygen emissions, based on the use of ceramic anodes instead of traditional carbon anodes, with the objective of decarbonising the process by 2050. A separate discussion concerns the metal deriving from recycling, the complete recyclability without appreciable loss of performance throughout the life cycle is notoriously one of the main prerogatives of aluminium, we talked about it in the last issue of A&L, in an interview with Orlando Niboli, CEO of one of the leading European and global companies of secondary aluminium production, Raffmetal, who stressed how investing in 3 years more than 50 million euro substantially improved the carbon footprint of their production. We who look at the interests of the aluminium system, besides supporting the issue of the level playing field in terms of import duties on crude aluminium in the EU, are totally in favour of the interesting proposal of a specific customs code for LOW CARBON metal, aimed at encouraging its use, which we discussed with Lord Barker as reported in another section of this issue of A&L. We also support the project of the European Aluminium Consumers’ Association FACE for a “Green Aluminium” brand, an opportunity to provide light metal users with the possibility of choosing products and manufactured items with a low carbon content, certified and adapted to the desired environmental standards throughout the whole application chain.