Aluminum Metal Advancements in Sustainability

Can the idea of sustainability be determined by metrics?  The answer is “Of course”, as any type of improvement can be measured. We understand it is far more efficient to recycle aluminum than it is to produce it the first time, which we call this value embodied energy.  However, since refining represents a significant proportion of manufactured costs there becomes a premium on recycling used aluminum.  Not only are the savings in energy, they are also in emissions of GHG’s.

Novelis reports.

“Recycling aluminum produces 95 percent fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and requires 95 percent less energy than primary aluminum production, enabling Novelis to achieve lower GHG emissions despite increasing global production capacity.” (1)

Novelis also reports improvements in Energy Intensity and Water Intensity metrics.

Significant gains were also made in fiscal 2016 as it relates to water and energy intensity. Novelis achieved a 22 percent reduction in water intensity and a 24 percent reduction in energy intensity for the 2007-2009 baseline.  (1)

Novelis Core Business

Novelis produces close to 20 percent of the world’s rolled aluminum products and we are strategically located on the four continents where aluminum demand is the greatest: North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Our dedication, innovation and leadership have made us the number one producer of rolled aluminum in Europe and South America, and the number two producer in North America and Asia. We also are the world’s largest recycler of used beverage cans, which comprise a critical input to our operations. Quite simply, recycling is a core element of our manufacturing process.  (2)

Figure 1:  Novelis Opens World’s Largest Aluminium Recycling Facility (3)

Novelis has officially opened the “world’s largest” aluminium recycling centre located adjacent to the company’s rolling mill in Nachterstedt, Germany and costing over £155m.

The recycling centre will process up to 400,000 metric tons of aluminium scrap annually, turning it back into high-value aluminium ingots to feed the company’s European manufacturing network.

“The Nachterstedt Recycling Centre is a significant step toward our goal to be the world’s low-carbon aluminium sheet producer, shifting our business model from a traditional linear approach to an increasingly closed-loop model,” said Phil Martens, president and chief executive officer of Novelis.  (3)





Related Posts:

Embodied Energy

Energy Efficiency


Mass Transit Prioritized in US Election – $200 Billion Approved by Voters

As gridlock continues to be a problem in the United States, exacerbated by crumbling infrastructure, the American public has reportedly approved up to $200 billion for rapid and mass transit.

According to the American Public Transportation Association (Apta), the 49 ballot measures totalling nearly $US 200bn that were voted on were the largest in history.  […]

The largest measure in the country, Los Angeles County’s Measure M, was passed with 69% approval with all precincts reporting. The sales tax increase needed a two-thirds majority to pass and is expected to raise $US 120bn over 40 years to help fund transport improvement projects, including Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) schemes to connect Los Angeles International Airport to LACMTA’s Green Line, Crenshaw/LAX line and bus services; extend the Purple Line metro to Westwood; extend the Gold Line 11.7km; extend the Crenshaw Line north to West Hollywood; and build a 6.1km downtown light rail line. The measure will also provide $US 29.9bn towards rail and bus operations, and $US 1.9bn for regional rail.

California’s other big transit wins include Measure RR in the San Francisco Bay area, which will authorise $US 3.5bn in bonds for Bay Area Rapid Transit rehabilitation and modernisation. It required a cumulative two-thirds vote in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties for passage and received 70% approval. (1)

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Figure 1.  Bay Area Rapid Transit (2)


BART’s Focus on Material Conservation, Energy Savings and Sustainability

BART’s infrastructure requires the train cars to be extremely lightweight. To meet this requirement, most of the exterior of the new train cars will be constructed out of aluminum. Aluminum is abundant, doesn’t rust, and when properly finished, reflects heat and light, keeping the train cars cool. It is lightweight but strong, yet fairly easy to work with, reducing the energy investment during the manufacturing process. Additionally, aluminum is easily and readily recyclable, making it very low impact when the train cars are eventually retired and dismantled.  (2)

Federal Investment in Rapid Transit and Transportation Infrastructure Lagging

Yet, despite the public’s continued desire to see greater investment in transit, historically transit has received only a small minority of funding at the federal level. Currently, only 20 percent of available federal transportation funds are invested in transit and just 1 percent of funds are invested in biking and walking infrastructure. Meanwhile, 80 percent of federal transportation dollars continue to be spent on roads.

“While many localities recognize the need to invest in transit, biking, and pedestrian solutions that can bring our transportation system into the 21st century, federal officials remain woefully behind the curve,” said Olivieri. “While it is great to see such widespread support of transit at the local level, the need for these measures speaks volumes about how out of sync federal decision makers are with the wants and needs of the American people,” he added.

The nation currently faces an $86 billion transit maintenance repair backlog, while data from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory show that despite the large discrepancy at the federal level between investment in transit and spending on roads, the nation’s road system is in similarly bad shape. To date, more than 58,000 bridges remain structurally deficient.

“Despite the fact that roads receive 80 percent of available federal transportation dollars, both transit and roads continue to face enormous repair and maintenance backlogs,” said Lauren Aragon, Transportation Fellow at U.S. PIRG. “While the overall level of funding is important, how states spend the limited federal funding they receive can have even greater consequences but states continue to funnel road funding into new and wider highway projects, leaving the existing system to crumble. We need to fix what we have already built first,” she added.  (3)


Figure 2. Typical image of steel bridge in disrepair (4)


Harvard Business Review Reports on Crumbling American Infrastructure

Bridges are crumbling, buses are past their prime, roads badly need repair, airports look shabby, trains can’t reach high speeds, and traffic congestion plagues every city. How could an advanced country, once the model for the world’s most modern transportation innovations, slip so badly?

The glory years were decades ago. Since then, other countries surpassed the U.S. in ease of getting around, which has implications for businesses and quality of life. For example, Japan just celebrated the 50thanniversary of its famed bullet train network, the Shinkansen. Those trains routinely operate at speeds of 150 to 200 miles per hour, and in 2012, the average deviation from schedule was a miniscule 36 seconds. Fifty years later, the U.S. doesn’t have anything like that. Amtrak’s “high-speed” Acela between Washington, D.C., and Boston can get up to full speed of 150 mph only for a short stretch in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, because it is plagued by curves in tracks laid over a century ago and aging components, such as some electric overhead wiring dating to the early 1900s.

Numerous problems plague businesses and consumers: Goods are delayed at clogged ports. Delayed or cancelled flights cost the U.S. economy an estimated $30-40 billion per year – not to mention ill will of disgruntled passengers. The average American wastes 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. This amounts to 5.5 billion hours in lost U.S. productivity annually, 2.9 gallons of wasted fuel, and a public health cost of pollution of about $15 billion per year, according to Harvard School of Public Health researchers. The average family of four spends as much as 19% of its household budget on transportation. But inequality also kicks in: the poor can’t afford cars, yet are concentrated in places without access to public transportation. To top it all, federal funding for highways, with a portion for mass transit, is about to run out.  (4)



(1)  Nearly 70% of US transit ballot measures pass;

(2)  BART – New Train Car Project;


(4)  What It Will Take to Fix America’s Crumbling Infrastructure;

Aluminum, a Quantum Leap in Renewable Energy Storage

The future for the metal aluminum has never looked better, for the great investment it represents as a multi-faceted energy efficiency lending material, electrical energy storage medium (battery), and for the advancement of renewable energy sources.  These are spectacular claims, and yet in 1855 aluminum was so scarce it sold for about 1200 $/Kg (1) until metallurgists Hall & Heroult invented the modern smelting process over 100 years ago (2).

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Figure 1.  Schematic of Hall Heroult Aluminum Reduction Cell (3)


Aluminum is an energy intensive production process.  High temperatures are required to melt aluminum to the molten state.  Carbon electrodes are used to melt an alchemical mixture of alumina with molten cryolite, a naturally occurring mineral.  The cryolite acts as an electrolyte to the carbon anode and cathodes.  Alumina (Al2O3) also known as aluminum oxide or Bauxite is fed into the cell and dissolved into the cryolite, over-voltages reduce the Al2O3 into molten aluminum which pools at the bottom of the cell and is tapped out for further refining.

Aluminum Smelting Process as a Battery

The smelting of Aluminum is a reversible electrolytic reaction, and with modifications to current plant design it is possible to convert the process to provide energy storage which can  be tapped and supplied to the electrical grid when required.  According to the research the biggest challenge to this conversion process is to maintain heat balances of the pots when discharging energy to prevent freeze-up of the cells.  Trimet Aluminum has overcome this problem by incorporating shell heat-exchange technology to the sides of the cell to maintain operating temperatures.  Trial runs with this technology have been positive where plans are to push the technology to +/- 25% energy input/output.  If this technology is applied to all 3 Trimet plants in Germany, it is claimed that up to 7700 MWh of electrical storage is possible (4).

Trimet Aluminum SE, Germany’s largest producer of the metal, is experimenting with using vast pools of molten aluminum as virtual batteries. The company is turning aluminum oxide into aluminum by way of electrolysis in a chemical process that uses an electric current to separate the aluminum from oxygen. The negative and positive electrodes, in combination with the liquid metal that settles at the bottom of the tank and the oxygen above, form an enormous battery.

By controlling the rate of electrolysis, Trimet has been able to experiment with both electricity consumption and storage.  By slowing down the electrolysis process, the plant is able to adjust its energy consumption up and down by roughly 25 percent.  This allows the plant to store power from the grid when energy is cheap and abundant and resell power when demand is high and supply is scarce. (5)

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Figure 2. TRIMET Aluminium SE Hamburg with emission control technology (6)


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Figure 3.  Rio Tinto Alcan inaugurates new AP60 aluminum smelter in Quebec (7)

Aluminum as a Material and it’s Energy Efficiency Properties

Aluminum and it’s alloys generally have high strength-to-weight ratio’s and are often specified in the aircraft industry where weight reduction is critical.  A plane made of steel would require more energy to fly,  as the metal is heavier for a given strength.  For marine vessels, an aluminum hull structure, built to the same standards, weighs roughly 35% to 45% less than the same hull in steel (8). Weight reduction directly converts to energy savings as more energy would be required to propel the aircraft.

Other modes of transportation, including automobiles, trucking, and rail transport may similarly also benefit from being constructed of lighter materials, such as aluminum.  Indeed this would continue the long-standing trend of weight reduction in the design of vehicles.  The recent emergence of electric vehicles (EV’s) have required weight reduction to offset the high weight of batteries which are necessary for their operations.  The weight reduction translates into longer range and better handling.

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Figure 4.  Tesla Model S (9)


In the 1960s, aluminium was used in the niche market for cog railways. Then, in the 1980s, aluminium emerged as the metal of choice for suburban transportation and high-speed trains, which benefited from lower running costs and improved acceleration. In 1996, the TGV Duplex train was introduced, combining the concept of high speed with that of optimal capacity, transporting 40% more passengers while weighing 12% less than the single deck version, all thanks to its aluminium structure.

Today, aluminium metros and trams operate in many countries. Canada’s LRC, France’s TGV Duplex trains and Japan’s Hikari Rail Star, the newest version of the Shinkansen Bullet train, all utilize large amounts of aluminium.  (10)

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Figure 5.   Image of Japanese Bullet Train  (11)

Aluminum For Renewable Energy

One of the biggest criticisms against renewable technologies, such as solar and wind has been that they are intermittent, and not always available when demand demand for energy is high.  Even in traditional grid type fossil fuel plants it has been necessary to operate “peaker plants” which provide energy during peak times and seasons.

In California, recent technological breakthroughs in battery technology have been seen as a means of providing storage options to replace power plants for peak operation. However, there remains skepticism that battery solutions will be able to provide the necessary storage capacity needed during these times (12).  The aluminum smelter as an energy provider during these high demand times may be the optimum solution needed in a new age renewables economy.

The EnPot technology has the potential to make the aluminium smelting industry not only more competitive, but also more responsive to the wider community and environment around it, especially as nations try to increase the percentage of power generated from renewable sources.

The flexibility EnPot offers smelter operators can allow the aluminium industry to be part of the solution of accommodating increased intermittency.  (13)





(4)  The ‘Virtual Battery‘ – Operating an Aluminium Smelter with Flexible Energy Input.










Aluminum Superatoms – High Temperature Superconducting Materials

Superconductors can carry electricity with no resistance and are used for specialized applications like MRIs, maglev trains and particle accelerators. Superconductor-based electronics would be extremely efficient because they would generate no waste heat, but he fact that they would only work at temperatures close to absolute zero makes them impractical.


>” […]

Scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) have made steps toward discovering a new family of superconductor materials that work at relatively high temperatures, with possible applications in physics research, medical imaging and high-performance electronics.

As electrons travel through an integrated circuit, they regularly bump into microscopic imperfections within the conductive wire and veer off course, creating electrical resistance and releasing waste energy as heat. Waste heat is a big inconvenience to both designers and end-users of electronics, but it simply can’t be avoided using the materials currently at our disposal.

[…] Thirty years ago, a new class of so-called “high-temperature superconductors” was discovered, although the name can be deceiving because these still require temperatures below 135 K (-135 °C or -210 °F) to operate, which still makes them impractical for use in electronics.

Now the USC team led by professor Vitaly Kresin has discovered hints of yet another family of superconductors which work at relatively high temperatures. Specifically, they found out that while single atoms of aluminum only turn superconductive at very low temperatures (around 1 K), so-called “superatoms” (clusters of evenly spaced atoms that behave as a single atom) of aluminum turn superconductive at much higher temperatures, around 100 K.

Superconductivity takes place when so-called Cooper pairs form within a material. These are pairs of electrons that are very faintly attracted to each other and activate a mechanism whereby the electrons don’t veer off course, and therefore lose heat, whenever they bump into an imperfection within the material. Because the attractive force between the electrons, which happens only under certain conditions, is so weak (two electrons would normally repel each other), even a small amount of external energy (which could be given off in the form of heat) can upset this equilibrium. This is why superconductors only work at very low temperatures.

Kresin and team built a series of aluminum superatoms between 32 and 95 atoms large. For superatoms containing 37, 44, 66 and 68 aluminum atoms, the scientists found evidence that Cooper pairings were taking place, turning the material into a superconductor.

The researchers suggest that creating superatoms of different metals could lead to the discovery of similar superconductors that work at relatively high temperatures. While the threshold temperature was 100 K (-280 °F, -173 °C) for an aluminum superatom, different materials are likely to turn superconductive at different (hopefully much higher) temperatures.

“One-hundred Kelvin might not be the upper-temperature barrier,” says Kresin. “It might just be the beginning.”

Should one of these materials operate as a superconductor at room temperature, it would likely have huge impact on the worlds of electronics, medical imaging, microscopy and electric motors, just to name a few. ”

A paper describing the advance appears on the journal Nano Letters.

Source: University of Southern California

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Why Electric Vehicles are not 100% Green

In 2013 Tesla’s [time-stock symbol=TSLA] Model S won the prestigious Motor Trend Car of the Year award. Motor Trend called it “one of the quickest American four-doors ever built.” It went on to say that the electric vehicle “drives like a sports car, eager and agile and instantly responsive.”


>” […]

The secret behind Tesla’s success

While the power driving Tesla’s success might be its battery, that’s not the real secret to its success. Instead, Tesla has aluminum to thank for its superior outperformance, as the metal is up to 40% lighter than steel, according to a report from the University of Aachen, Germany. That lighter weight enables Tesla to fit enough battery power into the car to extend the range of the Model S without hurting its performance. Vehicles made with aluminum accelerate faster, brake in shorter distances, and simply handle better than cars loaded down with heavier steel.

Even better, pound-for-pound aluminum can absorb twice as much crash energy as steel. This strength is one of the reasons Tesla’s Model S also achieved the highest safety rating of any car ever tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But it’s not all good news when it comes to aluminum and cars.

Aluminum’s dirty side

[…]  Before alumina can be converted into aluminum its source needs to be mined. That source is an ore called bauxite, which is typically extracted in open-pit mines that aren’t exactly environmentally friendly. Bauxite is then processed into the fine white powder known as alumina, and from there alumina is exposed to intense heat and electricity through a process known as smelting, which transforms the material into aluminum.

Aluminum smelting is extremely energy-intense. It takes 211 gigajoules of energy to make one tonne of aluminum, while just 22.7 gigajoules of energy is required to produce one tonne of steel. In an oversimplification of the process, aluminum smelting requires temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius to melt alumina, while an electric current must also pass through the molten material so that electrolysis can reduce the aluminum ions to aluminum metals. This process requires so much energy that aluminum production is responsible for about 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Carbon Trust.

There is, however, some good news: Aluminum is 100% recyclable. Moreover, recycled aluminum, or secondary production, requires far less energy to produce than primary production, as the […] chart shows. […]”<


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