Alu­minium re­cy­cling al­most per­pet­ual

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Investments -

THE boast of the alu­minium in­dus­try is that it is a cir­cu­lar econ­omy, ar­gu­ing that most of the metal is used with the po­ten­tial to be re­cy­cled again and again.

Be­cause the atomic struc­ture of alu­minium is not altered dur­ing smelter, the in­dus­try ex­plains, its life cy­cle is not the tra­di­tional cra­dle- to- grave’’ se­quence but a re­new­able cra­dle- to- cra­dle.’’

This at­tribute has en­abled alu­minium scrap to hold a high mar­ket value be­cause the en­ergy needed to melt it for re- use is only 5 per cent of the power con­sumed in its pri­mary pro­duc­tion. In ad­di­tion, re­cy­cling only emits 5 per cent of the green­house gases pro­duced in pri­mary pro­duc­tion, and the alu­minium busi­ness boasts that its use of scrap saves more than 70 mil­lion tonnes of emis­sions world­wide each year.

Since its in­cep­tion, the in­dus­try says, re­cy­cling of alu­minium scrap has re­duced global in­dus­trial green­house gas emis­sions by a cu­mu­la­tive bil­lion tonnes. It puts the cur­rent global en­ergy sav­ing each year at around 215,000 gi­gawatt hours, equal to Aus­tralia’s to­tal an­nual elec­tric­ity con­sump­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­dus­try, more than a third of all alu­minium cur­rently pro­duced around the world orig­i­nates from re­cy­cled metal, a tripling of out­put since 1980.

Of an es­ti­mated 700 mil­lion tonnes of alu­minium pro­duced in the world since com­mer­cial man­u­fac­ture be­gan in the 1880s,’’ says the In­ter­na­tional Alu­minium In­sti­tute, three quar­ters is still in pro­duc­tive use.’’

The Aus­tralian Alu­minium Coun­cil says more than 260,000 tonnes of scrap is re­trieved here each year — used prod­ucts and fac­tory pro­duc­tion scrap.

Aus­tralians re­cy­cle about 34,000 tonnes a year of used drink cans — in­volv­ing col­lec­tion of some 2.5 bil­lion cans.

A large amount of the scrap col­lected is ex­ported, win­ning more than $ 370 mil­lion a year in for­eign trade, with China the dom­i­nant ex­port des­ti­na­tion.

The soar­ing cost of en­ergy is also work­ing in favour of alu­minium re­cy­cling.

When en­ergy is rel­a­tively low- cost it is cheaper for pro­duc­ers to make new alu­minium than to find, col­lect, iden­tify, sep­a­rate and clean the alu­minium parts of dis­carded prod­ucts and, in fact, more than half of the alu­minium cur­rently re­cy­cled comes from fac­tory waste in the pro­duc­tion of con­sumer goods.

With the near- cer­tainty that global en­ergy de­mand and gov­ern­ment com­mit­ment to adding car­bon taxes to en­ergy prices will push costs — and es­pe­cially elec­tric­ity costs — to far higher lev­els, it is likely that it will be­come eco­nom­i­cal to stock­pile scrap.

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