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Aluminum Processing: Roundtable Vol. 60, No.8 pp. 25-31

Sustainability, Climate Change, and Greenhouse Gas
Emissions Reduction: Responsibility, Key Challenges,
and Opportunities for the Aluminum Industry

James Evans and Halvor Kvande

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© 2008 The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society

A special event at the TMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans in March 2008 was a plenary session sponsored by the TMS Light Metals Division. The purpose was, as given in the title of this article, to discuss “Sustainability, Climate Change, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction: Responsibility, Key Challenges, and Opportunities for the Aluminum Industry.” The participants came from key leadership of the primary metals groups of the world’s largest aluminum companies; Halvor Kvande from Hydro Aluminium was the program organizer.

…describe the overall significance of this paper?
Environmental aspects are now of great concern for all aluminum companies. At the TMS Annual Meeting in March 2008 a plenary session on this topic was organized, and the transcript from the question-and-answer session is printed in the present article.

…describe this work to a materials science and engineering professional with no experience in your technical specialty?

Environmental aspects are now of great concern for all aluminum companies. At the TMS Annual Meeting in March 2008 a plenary session on this topic was organized, and the transcript from the question-and-answer session is printed in the present article.

…describe this work to a layperson?
This article contains the transcript from a panel discussion held at the TMS 2008 Annual Meeting on environmental challenges, responsibilities, and opportunities for the primary aluminum industry.

This session attracted a high number of attendees, with 250–300 present in the audience, and it was among the best-attended events of the TMS 2008 Annual Meeting.

The speaker presentations in this session were followed by a panel discussion with the opportunity for the audience to ask questions and provide their comments to the panelists. Because a recap of the session’s roundtable discussion will be of interest to both the attendees and to the community of TMS, a transcript of the discussion is given here. The transcript has been edited slightly to improve its readability, but without altering the content of the questions and answers.

Moderating the discussion was James Evans, professor of metallurgy, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of California, Berkeley. The participants in the panel were: Halvor Kvande from Hydro Aluminium; Victor Mann from UC RUSAL and his translator Maxim Isaev; Bernt Reitan from Alcoa; and Claude Vanvoren from Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA).

Originally, Don Macmillan, vice president, Technology and Operational Excellence, was to have represented Rio Tinto Alcan Primary Metal, and Torstein Dale Sjøtveit, executive vice president, Norsk Hydro ASA and president, Aluminium Metal, was to have represented Hydro Aluminium, but they were both unable to participate in this session. Claude Vanvoren and Halvor Kvande then stepped in for these gentlemen on short notice. (See the sidebar for details on the presentations.)


At the TMS 2008 Annual Meeting, leaders in the worldwide aluminum industry participated in the timely symposium Sustainability, Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions: Responsibility, Key Challenges and Opportunities for the Aluminum Industry. The session opened with a keynote address by Diran Apelian, director of the Metal Processing Institute of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and 2008 TMS president. To distribute these important discussions beyond the annual meeting, TMS recorded them. The audio recordings and accompanying slides are available for download through the TMS Knowledge Resource Center. Following are summaries of the presentations and links to the presentations. In two cases, the author of the presentation differs from the presenter.

“Answering the Global Climate Change Challenge: The Materials Profession and Industries”
Diran Apelian Director, Metal Processing Institute, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
The materials science and engineering profession is essential to solving the global environmental problems that face humanity. Already, the aluminum industry has taken action to reduce energy consumption and emissions. In the last 50 years, the average amount of electricity needed to make a kilogram of aluminum has been reduced from 25 kWh to about 15 kWh, and the industry is working toward further progress in the areas of recycling and bauxite refining.

“Aluminium and Climate Change: Challenges and Opportunities–and Hydro’s Answers”
Halvor Kvande Chief Engineer, Hydro Aluminium AS
Climate change is a real issue, and aluminum can be part of the solution. Hydro’s plan for greener aluminum production includes reducing and recovering energy, and concentrating and separating carbon dioxide pending third-party commercially available technology.

“Aluminium Industry: Paving the Way to a Safer World”
Victor Mann Deputy Director, UC RUSAL
UC RUSAL was the first company in Russia to join the United Nations Development Program initiative to accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The company’s climate change initiative calls for a 50 percent reduction in direct greenhouse gas emissions from existing smelters by 2015.

“Rio Tinto Alcan Sustainability”
Claude Vanvoren Vice President, Technology, R&D, Rio Tinto Alcan
The aluminum industry cannot succeed over the long haul in a society that fails. And as the world moves to combat climate change, the aluminum industry is moving, too. Aluminum’s immense versatility means that smart product uses combined with a renewed focus on the entire manufacturing process chain will, taken together, be important factors in fi nding solutions across many applications, and the market for aluminum will grow and diversify as a result.

“Aluminum—Part of the Solution on Global Warming”
Bernt Reitan Executive Vice President, Alcoa Inc.
Aluminum’s unique value is its combination of recyclability and energy savings. A carbon-constrained future challenges the industry to use more sustainable energy, use less energy overall, and recycle more than ever. Leaders in the aluminum industry must accept this challenge. Roughly one-third of the world’s population is rapidly scaling up consumption of aluminum.

The aim of this plenary session was to highlight the environmental challenges facing the global aluminum business, both today and in the future. Climate change is regarded as the greatest environmental challenge in the world today. The recent reports from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change have convinced most people that climate change is occurring and that it is very likely due to an observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Humankind’s role includes rapid growth in energy consumption and the global expansion of industry. For decades, industry has recognized that environmental responsibility is not a choice, and there seems to be consensus that more preventive actions to limit global CO2 emissions are needed immediately. Aluminum companies realize that future profits and competitiveness and, ultimately, the long-term license to operate, are based on ensuring the sustainability of our environment and our finite natural resources. Fortunately, an increasing number of aluminum companies around the world are facing the realities of climate change and are leading the way by embracing greater environmental responsibility.

Indeed, aluminum can be a significant part of the solution to climate change as, for example, a highly recyclable material that can be instrumental in the light-weighting of vehicles. Additionally, the progress that the aluminum industry has already made needs to be well communicated, and the session underscored not only the field’s challenges, but also its successes. Toward these ends, industrial leaders from some of the world’s largest aluminum companies addressed the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. They also discussed activities to minimize negative environmental impact and achieve a greener future.

Climate change is on the agenda in the United States, and the world is dependent on American political leadership in the struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Most of all, however, this session showed us that we are dependent on strong industrial leadership and ongoing technological innovation.

The panel discussion began with a question by moderator Jim Evans.

Q. Evans: A recent issue of National Geographic featured Iceland and its aluminum smelters and it was rather unkind to the aluminum industry in my opinion. For example, it suggested Iceland would have been better off having a law school than a smelter. Many of us in the United States would immediately reject that notion. What I want to ask of this panel is what the aluminum industry can do in order to project a better image of smelters and aluminum generally so that we don’t have this rather partial treatment in the popular media. Bernt, since most of the references in this article were to your smelter, I wonder if you could start the discussion.

A. Reitan: Well, when you have big aluminum greenfield smelter projects there will always be differences of opinions. That’s the case in Iceland. Our project was approved in the Parliament of Iceland with a strong majority vote. It has been important for Iceland to develop an aluminum smelter to balance the Icelandic economy, which has been dependent on fisheries in the past. The aluminum industry in Iceland is an efficient way of transporting their energy, and Iceland has a lot of renewable energy. There will always be second opinions on whether to build hydroelectric plants in pristine areas, but with the plant now operating our opinion polls in East Iceland show unanimous support. Also, in North Iceland where we are planning to build our second project there is strong support for an aluminum plant.

Q. Evans: Bernt, let me interrupt you here because my question was not so much how do we convince the people of Iceland, and certainly not how do we convince the people in this room, but how do we convince the people outside this room, the readers of National Geographic, that this is an industry that brings benefit rather than impact?

A. Reitan: Sorry. I’ll try that part of your question. We need to tell our aluminum story as we do in this conference. Aluminum is part of the solution on climate change. It comes from the use of aluminum in transport combined with recycling.

A. Vanvoren: On this last point, I certainly support what Bernt said. I think we have a very good story on the usage of the product. We are also striving, all of us, to improve the process side and I think that we also need to tell this story. The process is improving and is more and more green and we need to put a lot of emphasis on communicating that.

Q. Subodh Das, SECAT, Inc.: As the world aluminum demand grows, we are going all over the world. We are going to dig a bauxite mine in India, and we are going to Iceland and Greenland. But yet there is $60 billion of aluminum in landfills in the United States. That is $60,000,000,000. And every year we are burying 1 million metric tons of aluminum cans in the U.S. My question is: Why should we disrupt Greenland for a bauxite mine for a consumer in the U.S. to drink from a beverage can and throw it away? Why should society support that activity? And second, why is the aluminum industry still making aluminum products that are not inherently recyclable? Look at aerospace alloys. We are making copper-zinc and copper-manganese, and once you mix copper with zinc it is not recyclable. Go to Arizona and you see hundreds and hundreds of planes laying and soaking in the sun. So that is the public apathy. We talk the talk, are we going to walk the walk? We are digging mines and disrupting the pristine land but our product is not being recycled 100%. The parts we are making are inherently not designed to be recycle-friendly in my mind. So my concern is that what we hear from the public is exactly how I feel with 35 years of my industry experience. I’ll be happy to receive any comments.

A. Reitan: Let me start. You saw in my presentation that we are really targeting as a company to increase the recycling rate on cans from 52% to 75% by 2015. And you saw also from my presentation as companies we really need to walk the walk and have concrete actions behind doing a better job on recycling. I agree with you wholeheartedly that we need to improve the recycling rate in the U.S. It certainly is a challenge in some of the alloys to recycle, but when you look at the world of materials, aluminum is in a far better place than other materials. Even with the exceptions you mentioned, and you mentioned a few, we need to work on how we can do a better job. I showed you that more than 70% of all the aluminum produced so far is still in use. We need to bring the recycling rate toward 100%. That should be our goal.

A. Mann: Today in my presentation I also mentioned that UC RUSAL is going to increase the share of recyclable materials in the next five years. The production of secondary aluminum will be increased by 1.5 times. Why not more? The problem is of a global size. It is very difficult to build a system which will separate the types of wastes. This is a problem of the entire country— we’re talking about our country, Russia—to separate or divide the types of wastes into categories. And as of today such a technology, which will help us to divide the different types of wastes prior to their recycling, such a technology does not exist. That is the main problem: to fi nd the technology, which will help us to do that.

[Evans invites a response to an inaudible question about clean electric power.]

A. Kvande: Right now if you look at the total world production of aluminum, almost exactly 50% is based on hydropower. That’s the good news. The bad news is that if you look back to 1990, 60% of the world’s aluminum production was then done by hydropower. And if I recall correctly, 30% now comes from coal and 15% from natural gas. And the only other source worth mentioning is nuclear power, which contributes about 5%. In other words, only 5% of the aluminum production is made by nuclear power. And you can say many things about nuclear power but it doesn’t make much CO2. In my country, Norway, we are now building gas-fired power plants in several places. The political demand is that that we should have CO2 capture and storage. This is expensive and will take some time but if I recall correctly, 2014 may be the year that we will have this in place. And we are now building a greenfield smelter in Qatar, based on gas-fired electric power.

Q. Evans: Claude, your country has embraced nuclear energy to a far greater extent than other European countries and I wondered if you could comment on the future of nuclear energy? Many of my colleagues see nuclear energy as a renaissance, an interest in nuclear energy, even amongst environmentalists. So could you comment please?

A. Vanvoren: I’m not really an expert at that. What we need to consider is the global portfolio of energy sources today. This again is in line with what Halvor said, which is around 64% from hydro for RTA. Obviously the nuclear part, at around 11%, is slightly higher compared to other companies, because of France. Certainly I think that the future of hydro will be explored. For example, in Africa there could be some potential for hydro power. On the other end, nuclear energy will see a kind of renaissance. I’m not too sure if this will help because this is also conflicting with other issues concerning the location for new power resources. But, basically, it comes back to the following questions: do we have an energy issue, or do we have a CO2 issue? Basically we are also back to what Halvor was saying about carbon capture and sequestration.

Q. Evans: All the presenters, with the exception of Halvor this morning, talked about inert anodes. I have a very specific question for Victor Mann. He was the one who gave us the most detail of what his company was planning by way of inert anodes. And my question is: Is the inert anode that he described to us in some detail—and remember those were vertical electrodes—is that going to be a retrofit technology or will it be something that’s applicable only to rebuilt sites or substantial rebuilds of existing cells?

A. Mann: Today we are considering the application of inert anodes in two directions. Later this year, in the summer, we are planning to test the inert anode on an existing cell. And we are heading towards the modernization of our existing facility, the existing smelter operation. In parallel we are developing a new technology with vertical inert anodes where both anode and cathode are inert or made of inert materials. In the latter case, we are striving to obtain such energy efficiency that will allow us to equip the next aluminum project, based on the latter case, which means both cathode and anode will be made of inert materials. But we do not want to create any illusions and we know that it will take several years to prove for ourselves the success of this technology before we start to implement or proliferate this technology. UC RUSAL has opened the doors and we are ready for cooperation in this area.

Q. Arne Petter Ratvik, SINTEF, Trondheim, Norway: Halvor mentioned heat recovery and CO2 capture from the pot. Can the rest of the panel comment on this approach?

A. Reitan: I think energy recovery and CO2 capture are very important. We are working equally hard on that and the industry has a very good story on reducing greenhouse gases from the pots.

A. Vanvoren: I think that in my presentation, I tried to touch upon all of these subjects so you are aware that we are working diligently on that.

A. Mann: We are starting work in several directions on how to improve our energy efficiency today. Surprisingly enough, UC RUSAL today pays much more attention to increasing the energy efficiency of its alumina production. Our alumina operations were built 30 to 40 years ago. At the Ural alumina refineries of UC RUSAL, 3.6 giga-calories are spent today per tonne of alumina. We found technical solutions which have helped us reduce the consumption of electricity in alumina production by 50%.

Q. Jerry Marks, IAI: What impact do you see greenhouse gas regulations having on competition between producers and the location of new investment given their different national settings and regulatory climate? And what do you think will be the situation in the future, for instance in 2050?

A. Kvande: The first question I guess is about the political approaches and limitations. If you are thinking of carbon tax, things like that, it would be very important that this goes for everyone, because if this is introduced in Europe and the United States and the western world, and if for instance China has no such tax, it fails the competitiveness of the companies. In 2050, many of us unfortunately will not be around to check the outcome. But when you build a greenfield aluminum smelter today, you would expect that your new smelter will be in operation in 2050. And I’m very, very optimistic that aluminum production has a great future.

A. Reitan: I think the real challenge is to get a system that works in a fair way across the board on a global basis. I mentioned in my speech that we have actively initiated a cap-and-trade system and we have also proposed incentives for R&D developments into carbon capture technologies, etc. A major challenge is the fact that the developing world will want to continue its current growth and not be slowed down from emission controls. Europe has been on the trading system on CO2 for a while as the only region. The Kyoto Post 12 will hopefully give the answers to this. When looking at the political trends, Australia in their recent election moved into cap-and-trade systems, too. So I think the world will continue to move in this direction even in this country.

Q. Evans: Bernt mentioned a cap-and-trade in Europe and we have an election less than 8 months away, which is likely to result in cap-and-trade appearing in this country as well. I’m curious to know what happens in Russia. Are there constraints on greenhouse gases imposed by the government or are the reductions Victor has discussed in his presentation entirely voluntary?

A. Mann: Today the authorities are preparing draft legislation to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases, but this legislation has not been passed yet. So it is not valid now. But the government has instructed the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade to set up a committee which would supervise this new legislation and its compliance. Russia today has a large number of new projects and so does UC RUSAL, which has joined this program. But to answer the previous question, it would seem to me that the biggest and most efficient motivation to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions would be to create such legislation in every country, and this would require a prior approval or permission before we start any brownfield modernization or a greenfield construction. So before you start any construction or modernization of a brownfield production site, you will have to buy this permit for the emissions of greenhouse gases. Every country will need to pass a law which will force or oblige every firm or company to buy such a permit or approval for a product which emits greenhouse gases. Only by these actions, in my opinion, will we create the free market for trade of these caps so each tonne of carbon dioxide will have its own price. Today it ranges from $4 per tonne of carbon dioxide. As far as I know, the maximum price, if you can call it a “price,” of carbon dioxide is $15 per tonne, which does not motivate us or the industries to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases.

A. Vanvoren: The only thing perhaps I could add is everybody, I’m sure, is looking for a fair system or fair framework, which needs to take into consideration the competitive position, and being careful of not passing through the cost of CO2 on top of the cost of energy. But more importantly I guess Rio Tinto Alcan’s position is to strongly support the global sector approach to this issue.

Q. Joe Becheliro, Hatch: We talked a lot about energy conservation and water saving projects; however, you’d also need to pay attention to the bottom line. My question to the panel is how do you balance that delicate act between sustainability and the return on investment. Should we be holding up these projects to the same level of returns as other types of projects? I’m talking mostly with respect to existing operations obviously.

A. Reitan: I think the safest and highest return strategy is to clean up early. The cost of carbon will go up.

A. Kvande: In one of our slides we stated that the climate change was our biggest challenge. We, all of us aluminum producers, have to do something there. Someone said, I don’t remember who, that at the end it’s about our license to operate. In the future we may see strict regulations on CO2 emissions and energy savings, which will be beneficial for us too. So we must admit that we may not have done all we can to reduce our energy consumption, but I hope that our company and other companies will bring that down to a more acceptable level. Because in electrolysis it is not acceptable to waste more than 50% of the energy input to the cell. Alcan, a little more than one year ago, stated that they’re working on a project that will reduce the energy consumption by 20%, which means if you are at 13.0 kWh now it would bring you down to 10.4 kWh, which is a fantastic number.

A. Vanvoren: Just a few comments and I will come back to that. I think that even on the pure financial viewpoint, I’m quite certain that all of us are starting to integrate the cost of carbon into our own financial calculations, either through our cost forecast of carbon raw materials and/or the direct cost of CO2. So at the end of the day, even in the financial assessment of the project, this will be taken into consideration. In my view, even if it is very approximate today, it will become more and more accurate and more and more a part of the assessment of any project. Regarding RTA breakthrough technologies development, I think last year I said we will try to return each year to give the latest news and I still stand by this position.

Q. Eirik Nordheim, European Aluminium Association: In the global context we have heard that there are a number of countries coming up with different schemes for carbon capture, cathode capture systems, or other systems. From the industry side, it has been suggested that global sector agreements could be a way for the industry to have a harmonized approach to the global level for this. We also know that other different industries are considering similar approaches to that. So I’d like to ask the panel, what do you think the chances are of having a global sector agreement for the aluminum industry where you have also real committed reduction targets from the different companies?

Q. Evans: Bernt, that’s probably a question you should tackle since we have some constraints in this country, which are probably going to hamper that process right now.

A. Reitan: Eirik, I strongly believe the industry should set targets to reduce emissions, and provided all the producers and sectors participate, such agreements may work.

A. Mann: I already mentioned today that UC RUSAL has launched a series of projects in cooperation with someone. And in the next 5 years, until the expiration of today’s protocol, which is valid until 2012, if you are talking about the equivalent of carbon dioxide, our present projects will help us to reduce the current carbon dioxide emissions by almost 4 Mt of carbon on the projects that we are launching today. And as we know, everybody uses the data of the 1990s for comparison and measurements. The companies have certain commitments to reduce the emissions by 2015–2020 (some figures and some limits). We, as a company, as the new UC RUSAL, have already achieved the level of emissions scheduled for 2015. And our target is still to reduce our emissions by 1.5 times by 2015.

Q. Barry Welch: Halvor, in your presentation you placed emphasis on your company’s environmental responsibility, which is also understandable since your main shareholder is the Norwegian government— one of the most environmentally responsible countries in the world. You also indicated your company’s plans to expand capacity at the Kurri Kurri smelter in Australia where the energy source has one of the highest carbon footprints in the world. Could you therefore explain why you are taking this option rather than using less polluting hydro power and/or natural gas in either Norway or Qatar?

A. Kvande: This is the type of question that makes me regret that I am sitting here. [Laughter] I think this is a little outside my field. It’s a question of energy availability and cheap affordable energy. We are in a situation in Norway where we have closed down three of our Söderberg lines since 2002 and the fourth one is still in operation, but it cannot cope with the so-called Oslo-Paris regulations in 2010. So at the end of next year we think we will have to close down also the last one. Can we replace that potline with a big carbon footprint with the most modern prebake technology, which has a considerably lower footprint? The question is why we would be building a new potline in Australia instead of in Norway or Qatar. We think that CO2 gas cleaning will be developed faster for coal-fired than for gas-fired power plants, because the emissions and the commercial potential are infinitely much larger for coal-fired power plants. Furthermore, we think that Australia will be a vanguard nation in this area. This makes us believe that the development of coal-fired electric power in Australia will be as sustainable as the alternative with gas-fired power. If water power was available it would definitely be the prioritized power source, but it seems that we don’t get much hydropower any longer in Norway. So most of the new energy may be based on gas-fired power plants. Of course, that is much better than coal-fired power. They would emit at least twice as much from a coal-fired power plant than from a gas-fired. That makes a difference. It’s much more CO2 emitted from a coal-fired power production itself than from the whole aluminum production process from bauxite to finished product.

Q. Jomar Thonstad, Norwegian Institute of Science & Technology: I have a simple question to you all. How optimistic are you about the successful development of inert anodes?

A. Kvande: Let me start since this wasn’t mentioned in my presentation. Just a general comment—personally I would love to see the inert anode introduced in the primary aluminum industry. It is claimed to be the most difficult task in materials science to find a material that could withstand molten cryolite plus oxygen at about 960ºC. Is it possible? Well, many people don’t think so. We heard from our colleagues here that Alcoa is still working hard on the project, UC RUSAL is also working on the project, and what Rio Tinto Alcan does, I don’t know. It would make the aluminum production process much greener, but again the big gain here would be to get most of our electric power made of non-fossil fuels.

A. Reitan: Well, I think there are compelling arguments for working on this to produce oxygen instead of CO2. And as you all know, we have worked hard on it in Alcoa and we have had progress. I believe we will see inert anodes in operation, but there are still some challenges ahead of us. If you ask me when, that’s maybe a tougher question. But we are optimistic. That’s why we continue to invest in our R&D on this. We run pots, but there are still issues to be resolved before we have a proven industrial solution.

A. Vanvoren: I am enthusiastic and strongly agree with what has just been said. I share, with modesty, the fact that we are optimistic on this matter. And the reason is that there are obviously things that we understand now that we didn’t 2 or 3 years ago. But I also completely share the viewpoint that at this point in time setting a deadline looks a bit unrealistic. But certainly, again, we are progressing.

A. Mann: The problem of creation of good inert anodes has several sub-problems. Actually it is not a huge problem to create an inert anode; today we have a lot of materials chosen for this purpose— metallic alloys and oxides— which have been tested by UC RUSAL and by other companies. The problem is how to feed the current to the anode. There is also a problem of the chemical composition of the electrolyte (bath), and another problem is the design of the cell. For example, today we can already produce aluminum with a percentage of impurities in the metal from 1 to 1.2%. If we could find a cheap technology for how to get rid of these impurities in the molten metal, then I can tell you that the problem of inert anodes can be successfully solved in the next couple of years. That is why I am optimistic.

Evans: On this optimistic note, I want to bring the questioning to an end at this point. I want to thank the panelists, and particularly Maxim Isaev, who did a superb job of the translation, and I want to thank TMS for the organization of this very interesting session. And I want you to particularly applaud Halvor Kvande who has done an excellent job bringing these things together for a second time since 2005