Though the industry has made significant progress toward it, the goal of net-zero emissions will continue to be “challenging” for the aluminium sector. Such is the opinion of the International Aluminum Institute’s secretary general Miles Prosser.
In an interview with S&P Global Platts, Prosser said the Paris Agreement’s goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions over the next 30 to 50 years are difficult due to the sector’s vast electricity needs, much of which is sourced from state infrastructure.
“Aluminum is a significant emitter now and to get to zero is a big task, whether by 2050 or 2070. Genuinely new technology is needed and once this is available this will represent a significant investment across the industry. It may take 30-40 years to implement new technologies right across the industry, and we really haven’t got the 30-40 years here.”
The aluminium sector must achieve three goals according to Prosser: changing energy infrastructure, reducing the electric consumption of alumina refining, and increasing recycling rates.
“Over time the industry will see a trend to more grid connection, which should give more flexible supplies than in-house supplies,” said Prosser of the sector’s energy infrastructure. At present just over half of the primary aluminium sector’s energy is self generated, largely via thermal coal.
Prosser went on to say that hydrogen will likely provide energy to aluminium operations in the future, but the technology is currently quite expensive.
On the subject of aluminium recycling, Prosser noted that the aluminium sector was among the earliest to adopt recycling. However, the availability of scrap aluminium may be an issue as demand rises.
“Aluminum came earlier than many other industries to recycling and has high recycling levels driven by commercial reasons … it is infinitely recyclable,” he noted.
Though recycled aluminium is expected to fill more and more of the rising global aluminium demand, the intensive infrastructure needed is one factor that is likely to limit it to 50 percent of the entire market.
“The recycling story may change a bit,” he concluded. “The quality of recycling is important: to separate out different alloys that can bring technical challenges; and to ensure that aluminum for one particular use gets recycled back into that particular use – soft drink can aluminum back into soft drink cans and automotive aluminum back into autos.”