Want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting global aluminium demand? Here are the pathways
Miles Prosser, Secretary General, International Aluminium Institute
Delivering emission reductions while meeting growing demand is a challenge to which the aluminium industry must rise in the coming years. However, there’s no simple fix to this, it’s not simply an environmental issue. Economic, political, social, logistical, and technological factors make this a complex process and variations in approaches will be required to deliver a solution.
The unique qualities of aluminium make it an essential metal in the consumer goods we use daily, for example in mobile devices, and this is not about to change. There’s an overwhelming reliance on aluminium to make things work and to deliver them. Construction, transportation, telecommunications are just a few industries that require vast amounts of aluminium. There’s hardly a sector to be found anywhere that does not utilise aluminium in one form or another.
This demand is expected to grow and thus the sector needs to act together at a global level if it is to cut greenhouse gas emissions while meeting this demand. To enable a clear direction on how to achieve this, the International Aluminium Institute (IAI) has published the most comprehensive report to-date on credible and realistic pathways towards net zero emissions.
The report, Aluminium Sector Greenhouse Gas Pathways to 2050, draws on IAI’s unrivalled data analysis of the global aluminium industry. It has been in preparation for over two years bringing together IAI member and regional associations to work collaboratively to discover and articulate pathways to achieve global climate goals. The IAI report identifies three vital pathways to reducing emissions consistent with global climate change goals: decarbonisation, direct emissions and recycling.
More than 60% of the aluminium sector’s 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions (2018) are from the production of electricity consumed during the smelting process. Decarbonised power generation and the deployment of carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) offer the most significant opportunity to reduce emissions to near zero by 2050.
Emissions from fuel combustion make up 15% of the industry’s emissions. Here, electrification, fuel switching to green hydrogen and CCUS offer the most credible pathways to achieving the sector’s climate goals. Process emissions make up a further 15% and require new technologies, such as inert anodes. These emissions and those in transport and raw materials will need to be reduced by 50-60% from a Business as Usual (BAU) baseline scenario by 2050.
Recycling and resource efficiency
Increasing collection rates to near 100% as well as other resource efficiency progress by 2050 would reduce the need for primary aluminium by 20% compared to BAU, which in turn will cut the sector’s emissions by an additional 300 million tonnes of CO2e per year – a figure second in magnitude only to the first pathway, electricity decarbonisation.
Aluminium in demand
Data from the IAI indicates that the global demand for primary aluminium will increase by about 40%, and recycled aluminium from post-consumer scrap will more than triple through to 2050 as economies grow, urbanise, build up their infrastructure and consume more goods. The IAI is acutely aware of this demand and as the only body representing the global primary aluminium industry, it is leading the way on finding solutions to the impact of this demand on emissions. The organisation has a wealth of data accrued over more than 40 years, including analysis on production, consumption, energy use and environmental impact.
This unrivalled analysis has enabled the IAI to identify the pathways that will enable the industry to achieve global climate goals, address other sustainability issues, and set the standards for others to follow.
The credible pathways identified here offer a broad basis for the sector to follow, it is a dual challenge as the reduction in emissions comes with the need to meet an ever-growing demand for aluminium. Meeting both will require a considerable investment in production technologies and a strong commitment from all along the value chain.
The pathways to be taken by individual actors in the aluminium industry will depend on factors such as unique energy endowments, raw material and scrap availability, regional policies, investment options and the available speed and cost of technology development and of implementation.
Achieving the reduced emissions goals while meeting aluminium demand will take sector-wide and inter-sectoral partnerships but crucially, investment will be the critical enabler for a low carbon aluminium sector by 2050.