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Breakthroughs could slash emissions from aluminum and steel production

Breakthroughs could slash emissions from aluminum and steel production

En+ Group produces low-carbon aluminum. Volvo and SSAB collaborate for fossil fuel-free steel.

While transportation accounts for about one-quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions, nearly 8% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions comes from manufacturing metals such as aluminum, steel and iron, according to Our World in Data.

Manufacturing 5.9% of the world’s aluminum, En+ Group is producing aluminum with a purity higher than 99% and with the “lowest carbon footprint” in the industry at its plant in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

The metals segment of En+ Group, Rusal, created a low-carbon aluminium brand called Allow. Allow uses noncombustible inert anodes in the electrolysis process instead of carbon anodes. Inert anodes only emit oxygen, whereas commonly used carbon anodes release CO2 and need to be replaced often, Victor Mann, technical director at Rusal, said in a webinar Tuesday.

“In a major breakthrough for the aluminum industry, En+ metals business Rusal has successfully produced aluminum with the industry’s lowest carbon footprint — less than 0.01 tons of CO2 equivalent per ton of metal. … This is 100 times lower than the industry average,” Lord Barker of Battle, executive chairman of En+, said during the webinar.

The average emissions of CO2 equivalent per metric ton of aluminum produced globally is between 12 and 17 tons, according to a 2019 paper, “Aluminum Production in the Times of Climate Change: The Global Challenge to Reduce the Carbon Footprint and Prevent Carbon Leakage,” written by collaborating professors in Europe and Australia.

Aluminum is very abundant and almost infinitely recyclable. Its light weight and durability make it an ideal material for vehicle manufacturing. Barker of Battle said the company expects demand for aluminum in the transportation sector to grow by 7% over the next five years.

Despite its many benefits, aluminum production, especially the smelting process, faces challenges with cost, GHG emissions and energy use. In addition to drastically reducing CO2 and toxic emissions, using inert anode technology has reduced smelting costs for En+, according to Barker of Battle.

The inventor of the inert anodes, Mann, said Rusal has been working on the technology for over 10 years and has tested it in several industrial settings. He said the company has three industrial cells with inert anodes that have the capacity to produce one metric ton of aluminum per day at the Krasnoyarsk plant.

En+ plans to keep running pilot projects to get more market feedback on its journey to scaling up production to the industrial level. So far, the company said it has received only positive feedback from customers who have tested Allow.

Over 90% of electricity needed to produce Rusal’s low-carbon and conventional aluminum comes from hydroelectric power in Siberian rivers, according to company information. 

En+ has broader sustainability plans to reduce overall emissions by 35% by 2030 and get to net-zero emissions by 2050, according to a release. It plans to release a net-zero road map in September that will examine its entire value chain and explore actions the company needs to take to meet its 2050 goal.

Volvo and SSAB steel collaboration

Meanwhile, the Swedish steel company SSAB is producing fossil fuel-free steel. Volvo Group will start making concept vehicles using the new steel, HYBRIT, in late 2021, according to a release

HYBRIT steel relies on fossil fuel-free electricity and hydrogen, reducing the GHG emissions released in the production process. The companies aim to use Volvo’s battery- or fuel-cell-powered vehicles for internal and external transports to limit the transportation-related emissions for HYBRIT.

Steel has a recycling rate above 85% worldwide, SSAB said, but that will not satisfy the growing demand because steel consumption has doubled since 2000.

The companies plan to increase serial steel production volume over time. After starting in Sweden, production in the U.S. could begin in 2026, the same year that SSAB aims to be selling HYBRIT at a commercial scale.

“We see a new green revolution emerging,” Martin Lindqvist, president and CEO at SSAB, said in a statement.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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15 April 2021, 22:34