Aluminium's climate paradox
Aluminium is often referred to as “congealed electricity”
One of the most notorious power hungry industries, it takes about 15 MWh of electricity to produce one tonne of aluminium. That’s more than three times as much energy as zinc and about 40 times more than copper or steel.
Producing aluminium is also highly carbon intensive. On average, mining and processing results in around 15 tonnes of CO2e emitted per tonne of aluminium produced. Overall, aluminium production emits some 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, accounting for around 2.5% of global emissions.
In addition to the huge power demands, the industry’s reliance on electricity generated using thermal coal underpins why it is so emissions intensive. Aluminium smelters consumed 880 thousand GWh in 2021, according to estimates by International Aluminium. Almost 55% of this electricity was generated via thermal coal (primarily in China), hydropower accounted for 30% (Europe and North America), with 10% coming from natural gas (Middle East), and the remaining 5% split between nuclear and other renewables.
Power source used by primary aluminium smelters, 2021
“Miracle metal” must do better
Aluminium production is highly carbon intensive, yet without aluminium decarbonisation cannot take place. To see why, consider it’s attributes. Aluminium is lightweight but strong, good conductivity, resistance to corrosion, elasticity and easily recyclable. Aluminium has more than one nickname, and if the metal had feelings it would probably prefer it’s other name - the “miracle metal”.
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