According to a new third-party critical life cycle assessment (LCA) report, the energy and carbon impact of aluminum production in North America has fallen to its lowest point in history. Since 1991, the carbon footprint of primary aluminum production has decreased by 49%, while the carbon footprint of recycled aluminum production has decreased by 60%. The energy required to produce primary and recycled (or secondary) aluminum was also reduced by 27% and 49%, respectively, over the same period.
Between 2010 and 2016 alone, the carbon footprint of aluminum production (primary and secondary) decreased from 5 to 21%. According to the “Environmental Footprint of Aluminum Semi-Manufactured Products in North America” report, aluminum produced in North America, which is heavily dependent on renewable hydropower, is among the cleanest in the world.
The report was developed by the Aluminum Association in cooperation with a Chicago-based sustainability consultancy. Sphere. It quantifies the impacts on materials, energy consumption and releases into the environment over the entire life cycle of the aluminum product, from the acquisition of raw materials to recycling and / or disposal in end of life. The study considers the cradle-to-door and cradle-to-grave life cycle stages and is based on aluminum and aluminum products made in North America in 2016.
“The US aluminum industry continues to innovate and find ways to produce this essential metal in the most environmentally sustainable way possible,” said Charles Johnson, President and CEO of the Aluminum association, Arlington, Virginia. “And we’re far from done – every day our members pursue new approaches to making this lightweight, sustainable and endlessly recyclable material using less energy and with fewer emissions. “
According to the LCA report, the production of primary and recycled aluminum represents the most important element of the industry’s environmental impact for product manufacturing and has improved significantly in recent years. The impact of semi-fabricated aluminum production has also improved. (Semi-manufactured aluminum is an “intermediate good” that has undergone extensive processing but requires additional work before it becomes a finished product.)
However, cast products saw their carbon footprint increase due to the difference in production technologies assessed between 2010 and 2016. According to the study, the ultimate reason for the increase is related to the difference in recycled metal content. In the 2013 study, which covered the production year 2010, the cast product was represented by sand casting technology, and the average recycled metal content was 85%. However, in this study, the production is represented by die casting technology, and the average recycled metal content is assumed to be 80%.
Technological advancements such as manufacturing process controls, efficiency improvements through economies of scale, phasing out old smelting technologies and replacing coal combustion with renewable electricity in the merger have contributed to this trend.
The lower carbon footprint of recycled aluminum can be attributed primarily to improved process efficiency, the study says, including improved furnace efficiency. The quality of the scrap raw material has also improved due to better sorting and pre-treatment of the scrap).
Regional variations in primary aluminum production also cause significant differences in the environmental footprint of various aluminum products, notes the Aluminum Association. LCA includes the analysis of energy consumption and carbon footprint of product types which include extruded aluminum, aluminum foil, aluminum foil, die-cast aluminum and aluminum foil and extrusions for the automotive market. Manufacturing these products in regions like China or the Middle East, which rely heavily on coal and natural gas-based electricity, can be two to three times more carbon-intensive than manufacturing similar products in North America. North, even assuming similar levels of recycled aluminum. use.
“The message is clear: boosting domestic aluminum production is good for manufacturing jobs in the United States and good for the climate,” Johnson said.
“Beyond the initial impact of manufacturing, it’s also important to remember how aluminum benefits products throughout their use phase,” he says. “Aluminum makes buildings greener and lasts longer; vehicles go further by consuming less energy; and packaging that’s lighter, more efficient to ship and easier to recycle.
The increased recycling of aluminum is also helping to make the industry more sustainable. Manufacturing recycled aluminum uses 94% less energy than manufacturing primary aluminum. Improving the end-of-life recycling rate of aluminum can also have a major impact. Increasing the recycling rate of aluminum by 1% can reduce the overall carbon footprint of the product by 80 kilograms of CO2 equivalent per 1,000 kilograms of aluminum produced, according to the study.
However, over a million tonnes of aluminum ends up in landfills each year in North America. The Aluminum Association says it is committed to increasing aluminum recycling rates and is working to achieve this goal, including advocating for new investments in recycling infrastructure and other changes in policy to encourage increased collection and capture of used aluminum. Last year, the Aluminum Association joined the Can Manufacturers Institute, endorsing the goal of achieving a 70% recycling rate for used aluminum beverage cans in the United States by 2030.
To view the full LCA report and read additional life cycle assessments on various aluminum products, visit www.aluminium.org/SustainabilityReports.