Aluminum Industry says Energy Efficiencies drove Carbon Footprint down 49% since 1991

Jan. 10, 2022
The report also noted a 27% decline in energy needed to produce primary aluminum and a 49% decline in energy required for recycled aluminum production

The aluminum production industry is touting a new report which indicates it has cut carbon emissions dramatically over the past three decades.

The third-party report, The Environmental Footprint of Semi-Fabricated Aluminum Products in North America life cycle assessment (LCA) report, has shown a 49% decline in the carbon footprint of primary aluminum production and a 60% decline in the footprint of recycled aluminum production since 1991.

The report also noted a 27% decline in energy needed to produce primary aluminum and a 49% decline in energy required for recycled aluminum production.

The carbon footprint of aluminum production between 2010 and 2016 declined by 5% to 21%. The report was led by the Aluminum Association in cooperation with Chicago-based sustaintability consultant Sphera. 

Charles Johnson, president & CEO of the Aluminum Association said, “The U.S. aluminum industry continues to innovate and find ways to produce this essential metal in as environmentally sustainable way as possible. And we’re nowhere close to done – every day, our members pursue new approaches to make this lightweight, durable and infinitely recyclable material using less energy and with lower emissions.”

The LCA report explains that primary and recycled aluminum production is the single-largest element of the industry’s environmental impact for product manufacturing. In recent years, technological advancements, including manufacturing process controls; efficiency improvements, phasing out of old smelting technologies and the replacement of coal-fired smelting to the use of renewable electricity in the smelting process have contributed to an improvement in the production process.

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Regional variation in production also impact the environment footprint of the aluminum products. For instance, making products, like aluminum sheet, die cast aluminum and aluminum foil, in regions like the Middle East or China, which rely mainly on coal and natural-gas-based electricity, can make the process two to three times more carbon intensive than when produced in North America.=

“Beyond the upfront manufacturing impact, it’s also important to remember how much aluminum benefits products throughout their use phase,” Johnson said. “Aluminum makes buildings greener and last longer; vehicles go further using less energy; and packaging lighter, more efficient to ship and easier to recycle.”

Moreover, the report notes that aluminum recycling can help make the industry more sustainable. Making recycled aluminum is 94% less carbon intensive than making primary aluminum. A 1% increase in aluminum recycling rate can reduce the product carbon footprint by 80 kg of CO2 equivalent per 1,000 kg of aluminum produced. However, over a million tons of aluminum ends up in landfills each year.

The Aluminum Association is focused on increasing aluminum recycling rates, by advocating for new investment in recycling infrastructure and policy changes to incentivize the collection of used aluminum.