Aluminium has staked a spot in the metals market as the environmentally-responsible choice, boasting attributes including its light weight and 100-percent recyclability. However, the metal’s Achilles heel has long been the significant energy requirements needed for its production. Current technology requires no less that 12,000 kWh of electricity for every metric ton of primary aluminium smelted. And, as the lion’s share of electrical generation involves the burning of hydrocarbons, this translates to a potentially large carbon footprint – on average, 12 metric tons of CO2 is released for every metric ton of smelted aluminium.
Thanks to recent global initiatives calling attention to the ongoing problem of climate change and the role of carbon emissions in it, the need for more responsible aluminium production has become more obvious. Pushed by the COP21 Paris Agreement, the political will for such change has blossomed, followed closely by a growing demand by consumers for low-carbon products.
With the ever-increasing awareness of the problem of CO2 emissions and a flourishing market for low-carbon products, the global aluminium industry has taken steps over the past several years to take responsibility for the carbon footprint their operations leave. Norsk Hydro announced earlier this year that it has established a goal of carbon neutrality across the entire aluminium lifecycle by the end of this decade. Rio Tinto recently declared that it seeks to establish a four-to-one metric ton CO2-to-aluminium ratio.
Onto this stage steps the world’s second-largest aluminium producer, U.C. Rusal with the announcement of a new low-carbon aluminium brand ALLOW, which is a primary aluminium product, produced with a carbon footprint of 4 metric tons of CO2 or less per metric ton (scope 1 and 2 emissions at the smelter). Motivated by the market’s growing demand for low-carbon aluminium and keeping to its commitment to shrinking its environmental impact, Rusal has leveraged its hydropower-driven electric generation advantage to bring to market an aluminium product that is independently verified to have a carbon footprint of less than one-third of the global average. As the firm’s principal aluminium smelting operations are centered in Siberia, 90 percent of its metal is already produced using hydropower. As a result, Rusal’s smelters boast a carbon footprint of roughly one-fourth of that of coal-fired aluminium smelters.
Rusal’s studies indicate that offering a low-carbon alternative to the aluminium market is the most environmentally-responsible step the firm can take at the present time. Rusal predicts that fully three-fourths of global aluminium demand will be filled by primary metal, and that aluminium production, which has increased by 30 million metric tons over the past two decades, is likely to continue along the same trajectory.
Growth in demand, coupled with an increasingly environmentally-conscious consumer base, is likely to foster a corresponding increase in the market for low-carbon aluminium according to Rusal’s internal estimates. The company takes aim at four market segments: automotive, beverage packaging, consumer electronics, and constructions.
In addition to corporate responsibility and market demands, Rusal sees the development of low-carbon aluminium as the natural evolution of its aluminium methods. Since its founding, Rusal has made the reduction of its environmental footprint a priority. Last year, the company devoted US$119.9 million to implementing cutting-edge environmentally-responsible upgrades to its facilities and processes.
Rusal’s continuing investment in green technology and practices has paid significant dividends over the years, allowing it to slash greenhouse-gas emissions by 57 percent since 1990. The ALLOW program is but one of several measures undertaken by Rusal to continue shrinking its environmental footprint. By the year 2025 Rusal plans to emit 15 percent less greenhouse gases at its aluminium smelting operations and ten percent less greenhouse gases at its alumina refining operations compared to 2014 levels, reduce power consumption at its aluminium smelters by 7 percent below 2011 levels, and reduce energy-related CO2 emissions to 2.7 metric tons or less per ton of aluminium.
Rusal CEO Vladislav Soloviev sees the development of the company’s low-carbon aluminium offering as a significant milestone not only for the firm, but also for the global aluminium segment as a whole:
“The launch of our new low carbon aluminium brand, ALLOW, represents a watershed moment for RUSAL in terms of sales strategy development and work with our customers. We know that consumers are increasingly demanding ever greater detail about the provenance of the products they purchase and their associated carbon footprint. ALLOW will provide consumers and manufacturers alike with confidence that the aluminium used in their products has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the industry.”
ALLOW represents the nexus of Rusal’s continuing commitment to environmentally-responsible production methods, global consciousness of the human contribution to climate change, and a growing market demand for low-carbon alternatives.