AluWatch aims to raise awareness on the environmental perspectives of the aluminium industry, providing relevant elements of analysis through rigorous and independent studies.
22/10/2015 – First Paper – “Aluminium and GHG Emissions: Are all top producers playing the same game?” (Prof. Yves Jégourel & Prof. Philippe Chalmin)
In the wake of COP21, Cyclope conducted a research on the environmental impact of aluminium production, for it covers 1% of global GHG emissions. Modernization of smelters and industrial processes allowed for a substantial decrease in energy intensity of aluminium production, from a world average of 17,000 kWh in 1980 to 14,289 kWh in 2014. From a manufacturing perspective, which encompasses mining to casting processes, the production of one tonne of aluminium ingot now emits on average 16,5 CO2e t – mainly carbon dioxide and fluorinated gases. However, an accurate assessment must take into account the power mix of each producer.
Nevertheless, newcomers and emerging leaders (China and Gulf countries) overwhelmingly resort to fossil energies to generate the electricity necessary for aluminium production, which caused GHG emissions to skyrocket over the past few years. Far beyond its domestic needs, China is now producing 55% of global aluminium (theoretically 60% in 2015), compared to 10% in the early 2000s. Are these environmental gains really significant since industrial firms do not all play the same game?
Even though hydroelectricity processes cover 80% of European and American producers’ activities, China’s aluminium production has been steadily supplied by coal (90%) for 15 years. In the meantime, Chinese production soared from 200 to 3,000 tonnes of aluminium per month. Coal consumption in aluminium production was increased fivefold in 20 years, from 80,000 GWh in 1995 to 400,000 GWh in 2014.
New leaders base their net exportations on intensive use of coal, triggering huge price drops and causing huge environmental damage: each extra ton of aluminium being produced with coal. Furthermore, these strategies cannot be justified as self-sufficiency measures. As Yves Jégourel and Philippe Chalmin put it, this predation strategy is both economically irrational and almost criminal from an environmental standpoint.