The Sustainability of Aluminum

This post covers the advantages of using metals in manufacturing and construction, from a sustainability perspective.

A cornerstone of Sustainability is utilizing materials that are naturally occurring and don’t deplete or lose functionality as they’re used (sunlight, wind, heat, the flow of water, and metals). Metals such as copper, aluminum and steel are great examples of materials that occur in deposits around the globe, are strong but malleable, are reusable and can be used repeatedly without their chemical makeup or structure changing.

Aluminum is one of the most sustainable metals that can be used in construction, packaging and transportation. Mined from bauxite, a chemical process must be used to produce alumina. Enabled by the aluminum industry’s effort to streamline the manufacturing process, aluminum creation has become more sustainable, with the total energy needed to create a single metric ton having decreases by 26% since 1995. The industry’s carbon footprint has decreased 37% since 1995. The industry’s emissions of perflourocarbons have dropped by nearly 85% since the 1990’s. Nevertheless, aluminum manufacturing and production still generates 2% of global emissions caused by humans, and the likelihood that it will soon replace many steel components in manufacturing necessitates its greater production efficiency- demand for aluminum is expected to grow more than 50% by 2050.

For its recycling process, aluminum is collected, cleaned, and melted in a furnace typically of 660 degrees Celsius.

Rolls of Aluminum

Aluminum is a reliable, light, and highly reusable metal that’s frequently incorporated into construction, packaging, and transportation. When house roofs are given an aluminum coating, they reflect up to 95% of sunlight, drastically improving the house’s energy efficiency by making it easier to cool off and regulate heat. Aluminum packaging is very lightweight and infinitely recyclable. Cars that have aluminum construction use less gasoline or battery to fuel their travel, with less weight in the body of the car- this is a key innovation seeing as how 30% of total emissions in America come from the transportation sector. Metals like aluminum also enable the easier formation of a zero-waste system-some companies have created products like cups entirely out of aluminum, then collected and washed them after use, only to sell them again in a fashion that is an embodiment of the circular economy.

Everyday Products- Cups

Ball is a company that creates infinitely recyclable aluminum cups which can be used, returned and reverted into new cups within 60 days. According to Ball CEO Michael Martin, the cup needs to be used only 6 times before it produces a lower carbon footprint that the industry standard plastic cups.

Transportation- Passenger Vehicles

Vehicles manufactured from aluminum have major efficiency advantages, and many contested drawbacks in terms of being able to meet industry safety standards. As mentioned previously, aluminum vehicle frames are much lighter than traditional steel frames and allow for greater mileage and battery life (in EVs), albeit are more expensive to manufacture. Manufacturers estimate that aluminum is 2 or 3 times more expensive per kilogram than steel. Traditional steel frames offer more protection with less material, but thicker aluminum can provide the same protection and still be lighter than the steel alternative. There are also many claims that aluminum is safer than steel in terms of protection, as it features better absorption and has crush patterns that are more predictable.

Ultimately, aluminum is a reliable, infinitely recyclable material that will see more usage in construction and transportation for the sake of efficiency and weight reduction.