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Sustainable aluminium finishes 2017 on a high

A fourth primary aluminium producer announced low carbon products at the end of 2017. Norsk Hydro launched Hydro 4.0 primary aluminium with guaranteed maximum carbon emissions of 4.0kg CO2 per kg of aluminium. This compares with an industry average of 11.5 kg CO2/kg. It is independently certified to ISO 14064 and all emissions, from bauxite mining and alumina refining to the electrolysis and casting of aluminium, are covered.  The reduced carbon emissions are achieved using hydroelectric power in the electrolytic smelting of aluminium and elsewhere in the production process. This joins guaranteed low carbon aluminium from Alcoa, Rusal and Rio Tinto on the market. 

Both Rio Tinto and Alcoa have indicated to the press that they are achieving a higher price for their low carbon aluminium, compared with regular aluminium. There is no end-use information but commentators are pinpointing transport applications as the driver. The Financial Times made the link between low carbon aluminium and other metals used in electric vehicles (EVs). Sustainable cobalt, free from the risk of exploitative practices and child labour, achieved a premium of 4 to 6 % compared with untraceable cobalt in 2017, driven mainly by the demand for EV batteries. There are strong arguments for using aluminium in the automotive sector, but savings of GHG emissions from lightweighting in use should be balanced against emissions from manufacture, as discussed in my article 'Low carbon aluminium gets motoring'.

But most aluminium is made from fossil fuel derived energy leading to a much higher average carbon footprint. The most efficient of these producers also received good news right at the end of 2017. The Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) announced the formal launch of its sustainability certification standard. ASI certified aluminium will only need to achieve 8 kg CO2 per kg but producers will also need to meet seven other social, environmental and governance requirements including rights for indigenous people affected by bauxite mining. The membership of ASI includes Brazilian and Middle Eastern smelters.  These companies, also no doubt hope to achieve price premiums when they become ASI certified. Lets hope that 2018 continues as 2017 ended, with sustainable aluminium gaining its rightful recognition in the market.

Published: 5 January 18

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