Alu­minium in­dus­try tack­les green is­sues

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources - Keith Orchi­son

THE global alu­minium in­dus­try has a four-pronged strat­egy to meet the chal­lenges of green­house gas abate­ment de­mands.

While the en­ergy re­quired to turn alu­mina into alu­minium ac­counts for less than 1 per cent of global green­house gas emis­sions, the in­dus­try is a high profile tar­get for en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy. De­spite alu­minium out­put hav­ing risen 44 per cent since 1990, emis­sions from the pro­duc­tion process have fallen 32 per cent.

The alu­minium pro­duc­ers’ strat­egy for deal­ing with the global warm­ing is­sue em­braces a fur­ther re­duc­tion in green­house gas emis­sions, pur­su­ing en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, max­imis­ing re­cy­cling and pro­mot­ing the con­tin­u­ing re­duc­tion in the weight of ve­hi­cles through use of its metal.

Ron Knapp, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Aus­tralian Alu­minium Coun­cil, says the lo­cal in­dus­try is about to pro­duce a sus­tain­abil­ity re­port that will high­light its deal­ing with en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts of the busi­ness.

At Gove in Arn­hem Land, one of three re­gions where baux­ite is mined in Aus­tralia, the in­dus­try, he says, is win­ning high praise from the area’s tra­di­tional own­ers and from stud­ies of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for hav­ing re­genated more than 2000 ha since min­ing be­gan in the early 1970s.

Sub­stan­tial re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ac­tiv­i­ties are also be­ing pur­sued in the other two min­ing ar­eas — the Cape York penin­sula in north Queens­land and the Dar­ling Ranges in south-west West­ern Aus­tralia. Three years ago Al­coa won the So­ci­ety of Eco­log­i­cal Restora­tion In­ter­na­tional model projects award for suc­cess­fully re­turn­ing the botan­cial rich­ness of jar­rah for­est in its re­stored WA min­ing area.

In the in­dus­try’s smelt­ing op­er­a­tions, Knapp points to its suc­cess in deal­ing with per­flu­o­ro­car­bon (PFCs) man­age­ment. PFCs are a po­tent green­house gas emit­ted from smelter pots dur­ing im­bal­ances in the pro­duc­tion process. Sub­stan­tial re­duc­tions have been achieved in PFCs emis­sions via the im­proved man­age­ment of pot bath con­di­tions, he says. The smelters’ PFC emis­sions in Aus­tralia have been cut 90 per cent per tonne of alu­minium pro­duced since 1990.

In the alu­mina re­fin­ing area, he adds, emis­sion in­ten­sity — the amounts of green­house gases re­leased per tonne of prod­uct — are now more than 20 per cent lower than in 1990 al­though to­tal emis­sions are higher be­cause pro­duc­tion has risen by 64 per cent in this pe­riod.

The alu­mina/alu­minium in­dus­try places large em­pha­sis on its re­cy­cling ca­pac­ity. Alu­minium prod­ucts can be used, re­cy­cled and re-used al­most end­lessly,’’ Knapp point out. Nearly three-quar­ters of the alu­minium ever pro­duced glob­ally — more than 700 mil­lion tonnes — re­mains in use to­day, rep­re­sent­ing a grow­ing en­ergy and re­source bank.’’

Re­cy­cling re­quires as lit­tle as 5 per cent of the en­ergy needed for pri­mary alu­minium pro­duc­tion with a cor­re­spond­ing large re­duc­tion in green­house gas emis­sions.

Knapp says the con­tri­bu­tion of re­cy­cled metal to the global out­put of alu­minium prod­ucts has risen from 17 per cent in 1960 to 34 per cent to­day, with 40 per cent tar­geted to be achieved by 2020.

The in­ter­na­tional in­dus­try re­ports that it re­cov­ers 90 per cent of the metal used for trans­port and con­struc­tion ap­pli­ca­tions, and 60 per cent of used drinks cans.

Knapp es­ti­mates the con­sump­tion of alu­minium prod­ucts in Aus­tralia at about 450,000 tonnes a year, but this does not in­clude com­po­nents con­tained in man­u­fac­tured im­ports, in­clud­ing ve­hi­cles. How­ever, when they are scrapped, their metal is added to Aus­tralia’s re­cov­ery pool.

En­ergy con­sump­tion is the crit­i­cal com­mer­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sue for the in­dus­try, es­pe­cially in a coun­try where the dom­i­nant source of sup­ply is fos­sil fu­els.

The to­tal amount of elec­tric­ity con­sumed by the alu­minium smelters is 29,000 gi­gawatt hours a year — com­pared to 57,000 GWh used by the en­tire res­i­den­tial con­sump­tion sec­tor of 8.3 mil­lion cus­tomers — and ac­counts as much as 30 per cent of its op­er­at­ing costs.

The need to re­duce the amount of en­ergy its needs per unit of out­put is there­fore a key fo­cus for the in­dus­try as it com­petes on the global mar­ket as well as in terms of re­duc­ing its en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print.

Aus­tralia,’’ says Knapp, of the world’s low­est en­ergy in­ten­sity alu­minium in­dus­tries. While in­di­vid­ual state-of-the-art op­er­a­tions re­cently be­gun or built over­seas are lower in en­ergy in­ten­sity, on av­er­age the Aus­tralian in­dus­try per­forms at least as well as the av­er­age for com­peti­tor na­tions.’’

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