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Eco-friendly technologies could transform the European aluminium industry
Aluminium is significant product in the construction industry with uses ranging from window frames to complete facades of skyscrapers. Whilst impressive progress has been made in recycling used aluminium – which is almost 100% recyclable, progress is needed in the area of primary production.
Primary aluminium production is an energy intensive process which requires considerably more energy than that used to produce the same amount of steel.
Adopting innovative technological solutions – currently in early research phase – instead of following a conservative technology development path could slash the direct greenhouse gasses (GHG) emissions of aluminium production by 66% in 2050 and reduce the associated energy consumption by 21%, according to a report by the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).
The reductions between 2010 and 2050 for primary aluminium production are even higher, amounting to 72% and 23% respectively. The findings stem from an analysis of the current status of the aluminium industry in EU28 and Iceland, which quantifies the potential for GHG emission reduction and energy efficiency.
This report supports the European Commission’s 2015 Energy Union package which highlights – inter alia – the need for additional research priorities such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and inert anode technology (in the aluminium production process) to reach the 2050 climate objectives in a cost-effective way.
The European aluminium industry has made substantial efforts to improve its performance in terms of energy efficiency and GHG emissions. However, to achieve the ambitious EU targets, further improvements are required.
JRC scientists compiled data on existing aluminium production facilities, their production characteristics as well as the best available and promising innovative production technologies. The latter involve the use of dynamic AC magnetic fields, wetted drained cathodes, inert anodes or carbon capture and storage (CCS).
The analysis shows that most of the resulting reductions come from technologies that are in early stages of research (e.g. inert anodes that are in a technology readiness level (TRL) 4 or 5, or CCS at even lower level). Therefore, harnessing this potential requires effective policy push to create the right conditions to allow the further development and commercialisation of these innovative technologies.