Aluminum products provide a net benefit to society and to emissions reduction.
Aluminum products provide a net benefit to society and to emissions reduction.

Chris Bayliss from the UK’s International Aluminium Institute suggests that the metal is the ideal material for a environmentally-friendly future.

As the world comes together in Paris to develop a plan of action to tackle the most significant sustainability challenge of the age, the International Aluminium Institute looks forward to a new international agreement on climate change.

Delivering improved quality of life for all, equitable access to resources and services, food security, mobility and urban development, in a carbon and labor constrained world requires innovative use of materials, with the potential to deliver more for less.

On a full life cycle basis, across a wide range of commonplace applications, aluminum products provide a net benefit to society and to emissions reduction. From transportation, building and construction to food and medical/pharmaceutical packaging, aluminium plays a critical role in both short- and long-life applications.

Reductions in vehicle and cargo/goods container weight across transport modes allows for greater efficiency and reduced energy consumption. Aluminum packaging protects the energy, water and resources invested in producing, growing and processing food. It also ensures the additional energy used to get that food to us – in transport, retailing, shopping, storing and cooking – is not wasted. Efficient, low loss aluminum cabling is bringing power to more and more communities and the use of aluminum in renewable energy generation, transmission and intelligent control systems is increasing.

Positive recycling

Three quarters of the one billion tonnes of aluminum ever produced is still in productive use, a positive recycling story which shows the demand for light, strong, conductive, protective products and the durability of many of the aluminum applications. Much of the aluminum in long lifetime applications has not yet reached the end of the ‘first life’, but will remain available for future recycling. Long lifetime products tend to have high recycling rates, greater than 90%.

The use of 1 kg of aluminum to lightweight a car or light truck can save a net 20 kg of CO2 over the life of the vehicle. This figure is even higher for more weight sensitive applications (for instance, up to 80 kg CO2 per kg of aluminum used in trains). The 20+ million tonnes of aluminum used in transport today could save 400 million tonnes CO2 and over 100 billion litres of crude oil over the vehicles' lives.

Depending on the source of electricity used in the electrolysis (smelting) stage of production, the aluminum greenhouse emissions footprint can be as low as 4kg CO2 -e per kg of aluminum ingot (from renewable energy), with a global average of 12kg CO2 -e per kg of aluminum ingot for all energy sources.

This story is reprinted from material from the International Aluminium Institute with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier.