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Feb. 5, 2014

Study: Aluminum's Energy Use, Carbon Footprint Declining
 
Energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions associated with primary aluminum production in the United States and Canada have declined significantly in recent years, according to a new, peer-reviewed report released by the Aluminum Association, Arlington, Va. The study covers all life-cycle effects from aluminum production through semi-fabrication and finds major improvements, particularly in terms of more sustainable production.

According to the report, the energy needed to produce a single metric ton of primary aluminum has declined 11 percent since 2005 and 26 percent since 1995. The industry's carbon footprint has fallen even more dramatically, declining 19 percent since 2005 and 37 percent since 1995. A voluntary effort undertaken by the industry in the early 1990s with the Environmental Protection Agency has reduced emissions of perfluorocarbons, a greenhouse gas, by nearly 85 percent.

"The industry is proud of the strides it has made in recent years to produce aluminum sustainably, and this new data underscores the results of our efforts," says Kip Smith, president and CEO of Noranda and chairman of the Aluminum Association. "Infinitely recyclable, light-weight and strong, aluminum is not only a metal with countless applications but also the green material of choice in many markets."

The new findings are based on a multi-year LCA study examining the environmental impact of modern aluminum production. The study reviewed the 2010 production year and incorporates data from 25 companies, representing 95 percent of primary metal production and the majority of the industry in the U.S. and Canada. The report includes data on every aspect of primary and secondary aluminum production, as well as semi-fabrication, and will be a critical tool for researchers exploring the environmental impact of aluminum and other materials. A third-party expert on life-cycle assessment reviewed the report to ensure conformance with International Organization for Standardization standards, the association claims.

Technological advances in the aluminum production process are the primary drivers of the environmental improvements. These advances include:

• The increased use of computerized process controls to lower electric power usage needed to produce primary aluminum;

• The gradual phase-out of older facilities relying on more energy-intensive production processes;

• And the expanded use of renewable hydroelectric power sources for aluminum production, which has risen from 63 percent in 1995 to 75 percent today.

"It's encouraging to see how aluminum producers continue to innovate to make aluminum even more sustainable," says Heidi Brock, president and CEO of the Aluminum Association. "We can also achieve significant environmental gains by substituting aluminum in more products and by increasing end-of-life recycling."

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