Melanie Williams Consulting

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The winner takes it Al

The first company to produce and sell sustainably certified primary aluminium, Rio Tinto, has just won  ‘Metals Company of the Year’  in S&P Global Platts’, Global Metals Awards. Their award is for ‘brave leadership and innovation to produce aluminium in a sustainable way.’

An early member of the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI), Rio Tinto has exceeded the minimum certification requirements with ten sites certified to both the Performance and Chain of Custody Standards. Bauxite mining, alumina refining, aluminium smelting and casthouses are all covered, which is impressive considering the minimum requirement is one site certified to the Performance Standard only. All this has been accomplished well ahead of the deadline at the end of 2019. In addition, much of their aluminium smelting is powered by renewable electricity resulting in an exceptionally low-carbon product, which is branded as RenewAlTM.

The world will need primary aluminium in the future because lightweight carbon efficient transport, recyclable packaging and building applications are increasing demand for the metal. European Aluminium’s vision is that demand in Europe in the year 2050 can be met with almost equal shares of primary and recycled aluminium. European production is powered by increasing amount of renewable electricity resulting in lower carbon aluminium.  Imports from China and the Middle East rely on gas and coal. These imports are an example of ‘carbon leakage’; high carbon products sold into Europe to compete with low carbon production in Europe. Hence the need to tax imports on their embedded carbon to prevent this phenomenon, which I have written about previously.

Until such regulation is enacted, market pressure will be the main means of influencing industry, particularly consumer brands, to choose low carbon, sustainable products. Recently we have seen the London Metal Exchange embrace responsible sourcing for all its traded metals. The CEO, Matthew Chamberlain, in an interview with the Financial Times, foresaw a future in which only low-carbon material would be traded on the exchange. Rusal, Hydro and Rio Tinto all produce low carbon aluminium smelted with renewable electricity, and Mr Chamberlain said the LME is looking at ways these brands could be identified in its system. Such a move would be a good boost for low carbon aluminium.

There will be winners and losers in the transition to a low carbon economy. Aluminium smelters relying on fossil fuel generated electricity should be investing in renewables and offsetting unavoidable fossil fuel emissions, to avoid losing out to low carbon aluminium.

Published: 21 May 19

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