【DE】Aluminum as a pioneer in climate protection

The aluminum industry in Europe has been working intensively for many years on the sustainable production and processing of its material. Aluminum has repeatedly been the subject of criticism. On the one hand, this is due to the effects of bauxite mining and the high energy consumption in primary production. On the other hand, efficiency in the plants plays an economically important role in the energy-intensive processing and production of the silver metal. The nonferrous metals industry has a pioneering role to play. More than two decades ago, the industry became active and laid the foundations for today’s climate protection processes.

 

 

 

Image: Shutterstock

 

The aluminum industry in Europe takes its commitment to energy- and resource-efficient processing very seriously. Ecological and economic aspects are of great importance and are touchstones for the evaluation of products and processes. Today, aluminum is making an active contribution to a sustainable society and is an integral link in the value chain of contemporary products.

 

As early as 2008, 20 companies in the non-ferrous metals industry began collecting examples of energy efficiency projects in companies and presenting them to a broad public in an exemplary manner. What was initiated 15 years ago as the “Metals for the Climate” initiative by the WirtschaftsVereinigung Metalle (WVM) has since proved its worth on a broad front. In many cases, these experiences are now the basis for significant reductions in energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Even then, the industry learned to take a serious and conscientious look at potential cri-tical points and to seek solutions. After all, aluminum companies were among the pioneers in climate protection. The necessary energy is used as efficiently as possible, recovered at many points, converted or – for example – supplied to the neighborhood as district heating.

 

 

 

ASI sets standards

 

A complementary aspect is being pursued with great success by the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative (ASI). It is committed to the sustainable use of aluminum along the value chain. The non-profit organization has worked with user industries, associations and local organizations to develop standards and a certification system for the production and handling of aluminum.

 

The industry learned to take a serious and conscientious look at potential critical points and to seek solutions. After all, aluminum companies were among the pioneers in climate protection.

ASI’s internationally effective certification system is intended to maximize the industry’s contribution to a sustainable society. According to Managing Director Fiona Solomon, it is the responsibility of stakeholders in the aluminum industry to ensure responsible production, sourcing and management of aluminum. The primary goals are to achieve the following:

 

– Increasing transparency and credibility

 

– Certification of “sustainable” aluminum or steel

 

– Increasing social, ecological and economic aspects along the supply chain

 

Here again, the aluminum industry is taking a pioneering role. Expert Fiona Solomon confirms this: “The aluminum industry can be justifiably proud of the ASI approach to the entire value chain, the strong stakeholder acceptance and commitment, and the desire to continue to play a pioneering role in responsible production and sourcing.”

 

Certifications are not always a completely voluntary achievement. For buyers in the automotive industry, certificates are part of “good manners.” For the companies, advantages arise: they increase the transparency of the supply chain, optimization potentials are identified, the production process becomes more sustainable, participants signal ecological, ethical and social commitments and improve their image (meeting the expectations of sustainability-conscious customers) and gain competitive advantages with which they can distinguish themselves from competing products. Certification to both standards is now offered by almost all major accredited certification bodies.

 

Green aluminum

 

In addition, there are many individual measures with which companies in the Aluminum industry position themselves well in terms of climate protection or pursue the goal of becoming less dependent on energy prices. Almost all company sites in the European industry have been examined in the past with regard to the generation of electricity by PV systems. Solar energy is an important pillar in the strategy to reduce the carbon footprint of aluminum products. Where this is not sufficient, green energy is purchased for production. The results are impressive.

 

One example: in 2020, Rob van Gils, CEO of Hammerer Aluminium Industries Group (HAI), saved more than 21,000 metric tons of CO2 in one year at its two sites in Ranshofen, Austria, and Soest, Germany, by purchasing 100 percent electricity from renewable energy sources. “Green Energy is part of our uncompromising sustainability strategy. It underlines our will to contribute to a better future and shows that aluminum is part of the solution to the ambitions of the EU Green Deal.”

 

Almost all company sites in the European industry have been examined in the past with regard to the generation of electricity by PV systems.

 

Experts agree that the carbon footprint plays an important role alongside price, quality and delivery reliability. Customers have long been asking how CO2-free production is. From 2023, the Swedish car manufacturer Volvo will even require its suppliers to provide a largely emission-free power supply for the manufacture of its products.

 

An example at Neuman Aluminium in Marktl, Austria, shows how creatively the industry is responding to such requests. In addition to the consistent expansion of available hydropower, a large-scale photovoltaic system was built with employee participation. More than 40 employees were able to have a PV system installed at their homes. By bundling the many orders, the investment will pay for itself after just eight years instead of the usual twelve to 15 years.

 

 

 

CO2 footprint is decisive

 

So it’s no wonder that every company now has its own departments that are primarily concerned with sustainability, resource efficiency, environmental and climate aspects, or energy and energy recovery. But the development departments are also being called to account: Not only the proportion of recycled aluminum in a product plays a role. The technical product costs and key material figures are also being closely scrutinized. Here, experts see an opportunity to escape the unpopular price discussion about products with a reduced CO2 footprint. If a customer can make variable decisions about the CO2 footprint of his product, this would make a price discussion much easier.

 

Another example of commitment to environmental and climate protection is the basic materials manufacturer Trimet Aluminium SE. It supplies processors along the entire value chain with basic aluminum products. The energy and capital requirements for investments in climate protection are correspondingly high. The family-owned company has up to 250 million euros at its disposal over the next five years to achieve its goal of climate-neutral production by 2045. “This credit line with its special conditions is confirmation of our strategy of investing in sustainability to make Trimet sites fit for the future and to promote our competitiveness as a domestic materials producer,” says Philipp Schlüter, Chairman of the Executive Board of Trimet Aluminium SE.

 

When it comes to sustainability, climate protection and other ecological footprints, lightweight aluminum has an excellent track record. The resource efficiency of products only really becomes clear when the entire life cycle is considered – from metal extraction and processing into semi-finished and end products to use and recycling.

 

Text: Alwin Schmitt

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