Much is said these days about carbon footprint, global warming potential, embodied energy and various other ‘sound bite’ phrases are bandied around by people who have very little understanding of the facts behind them. Then there is a range of agencies and schemes that purport to establish the relative environmental impact of each material and process to give an indication of their sustainability.
“aluminium extraction and refining companies have reduced their energy requirements by almost 70% since 1900”
The global aluminium industry has made great strides during the last century to reduce its environmental impact at all stages of the supply chain. This document summarises those advances and details the current facts about aluminium extraction, refining, supply and recycling – a full cradle-to-cradle overview.
“the percentage of recycled aluminium globally is increasing”
Carbon footprint and GWP relate to the production of greenhouse gases, principally during the generation of electricity or burning of fossil fuels, of which CO2 is the most common but the least toxic. The aluminium extraction and refining companies have reduced their energy requirements by almost 70% since 1900. They are using a growing percentage, now 50%, of hydro-electric energy and have virtually eliminated the release of the more toxic gases. Of greatest significance is that the percentage of recycled aluminium globally is increasing (35% and rising) and it takes just 5% of the energy, thus creating just 5% of the greenhouse gases, to recycle the metal as it did to first produce it.
“75% of all aluminium produced since the 1880s is still in use”
Embodied energy is a statement of the energy it takes to produce, transport and manufacture aluminium products. By far the highest energy consuming processes are in the production phase and as explained above, the aluminium industry has and continues to reduce these energy levels. Moreover due to its complete recyclability the ‘bank’ of processed aluminium continues to grow and 75% of all aluminium produced since the 1880s is still in use for future generations to exploit as a low energy resource.
“current global thinking encompasses the full cradle-to-cradle life cycle approach”
Methodologies for the assessment of environmental impact have and continue to become more sophisticated and current global thinking encompasses the full cradle-to-cradle life cycle approach. Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) that embrace this principle ensure that the merits of all materials are given due credence, while those methodologies that concentrate only on part of the life cycle place undue emphasis on the initial production processes.
The aluminium construction industry believes totally in the need for responsible sourcing, for continued development of energy efficient processes and in the preservation of the earth’s resources for future generations.