Aluminium

Tracking Clean Energy Progress

🕐 Last updated Wednesday, 23 May 2018

More efforts needed

The energy intensity of aluminium production declined by 1.7% in 2016, compared to a 1.9% annual reduction from 2010 to 2016. As almost half of global production, based in China, already reached best-performing levels for primary production in 2014, a more moderate annual decline of 1.2% is needed to meet the SDS objectives by 2030. However, the global proportion of aluminium production from recycled new and old scrap needs to increase considerably to 46%.


Electricity intensity of primary aluminium production by region

China, which produces half of global aluminium, reached best performing levels in 2014.

	Europe	North America	Central & South America	Africa	Other Asia	China	GCC	Global
2000	15242	15772	15357	15068	15348	15479		15381
2001	15258	15201	15275	14916	15387	15470		15221
2002	15351	15224	15307	14597	15366	15362		15186
2003	15139	15529	15359	14321	15413	15026		15160
2004	15275	15613	15551	14337	15427	14794		15145
2005	15536	15552	15152	14158	15082	14574		15080
2006	15688	15563	15238	14622	15314	14697		15206
2007	15664	15421	15085	14597	15174	14441		15035
2008	15680	15498	15598	14550	15035	14283		15010
2009	15596	15006	15498	14716	14734	14171	14760	14795
2010	15838	15120	15739	14619	14899	13979	14758	14777
2011	15645	15409	16075	14433	14756	13913	14654	14711
2012	15697	15458	15912	14774	14939	13844	14480	14637
2013	15519	15584	15694	15534	14749	13740	14817	14560
2014	15513	14870	15038	14569	14714	13596	14889	14289
2015	15522	15130	15751	14550	14891	13562	14497	14239
2016	15436	15613	15878	15157	14767	13599	14868	14318
{
    "title": {
      "text": ""
    },
    "subtitle": {
    "text": "Click a country/region in the legend to show it on the chart."
    },
    "chart": {
      "type": "line",
      "height": "40%"
    },
    "colors": [
      "#00b050",
      "#92d050",
      "#31869b",
      "#93cddd",
      "#60497a",
      "#b1a0c7",
      "#da8137",
      "#c0504d",
      "#ffc000",
      "#ea9854"
    ],
    "yAxis": {
      "title": {
        "text": "kWh/t"
      }
    },
    "legend": {
      "align": "right",
      "verticalAlign": "middle",
      "layout": "vertical"
    },
    "plotOptions": {
      "series": {
        "zoneAxis": "x",
        "zones": [{
          "value": 2016
        },
        {
          "dashStyle": "Dot"
        }],
        "marker": {
          "enabled": false
        },
        "tooltip": {
          "valueSuffix": " kWh/t"
        }
      }
    },
    "series": [{"visible": false},{"visible": true},{"visible": false},{"visible": false},{"visible": false},{"visible": true},{"visible": true},{"visible": false}]
}

Notes: GCC refers to the Gulf Cooperation Council member countries. Data and region definitions based on International Aluminium Institute statistics.


Global aluminium production has grown by 3.5% from 2014 to 2016, less than the 7.7% a year it registered from 2010 to 2014. Global energy intensity of aluminium production declined by 1.7% in 2016, compared to a 1.9% annual reduction from 2010 to 2016.

The downward trend occurred in both primary aluminium smelting (0.5% per year) and alumina refining (3.6% per year), driven by adoption of best available technologies and energy efficiency improvements.

This decline in the global energy intensity of aluminium smelting from 2010 to 2016 has been driven to a large extent by developments in China through a combination of capacity growth, the country accounted for almost half of global production in 2016, which enabled robust energy intensity declines reaching best performing levels in 2014. In 2016, the aluminium produced from recycled new and old scrap stood at 33% globally.


Tracking progress

Reducing the energy intensities of primary and secondary aluminium production, as well as increasing scrap collection and recycling rates, will be important to achieve the SDS objectives by 2030.

The declines in global intensity of aluminium need to be maintained at least at 1.2% annually in that period, a moderate reduction rate compared to previous years provided that more than half of primary aluminium is already produced at best energy performance levels.

A significant increase is expected in aluminium demand, which raises the needs to decrease material losses across supply value chains and to increase scrap collection and recycling. The share of aluminium produced from recycled new and old scrap needs to reach 46% by 2030 to meet the SDS pathway.


Innovation

The IEA’s new Innovation Tracking Framework identifies key long-term “technology innovation gaps” across the energy mix that need to be filled in order to meet long-term clean energy transition goals. Each innovation gap highlights where R&D investment and other efforts need improvement.

Explore the technology innovation gaps identified for aluminium below:

Inert anodes

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Utilising inert anodes would reduce process emissions from primary aluminium production. Primary aluminium smelting currently largely relies on carbon anodes, which produce CO2 as they degrade. Inert anodes made from alternative materials produce pure oxygen.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Technology scale up to TRL 6 and 7, large-scale pilot testing and demonstration.

Key initiatives

Inert anode technology is being tested in a smelter section at RUSAL's Krasnoyarsk plant in Russia. Alcoa has also pilot tested inert anodes at a multi-pot scale.


Wetted cathodes

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Using cathodes made from wetted materials, such as titanium diboride, would improve the electrical contact between molten aluminium and the cathode and in turn allow for a decreased anode-cathode distance without causing difficulties for the smelting process. Wetted cathodes could reduce energy use by approximately 20% compared to conventional carbon cathodes.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Successful larger-scale pilot testing and initial demonstration (TRL 5-6).

Key initiatives

Several companies in partnership with the US Department of Energy conducted research and pilot tests around the early 2000s.


Multipolar cells

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

While conventional Hall-Héroult cells have a single-pole arrangements, multipolar cells could be produced by using bipolar electrodes or having multiple anode-cathode pairs in the same cell. They have the potential to reduce energy consumption by 40%, due to lower operating temperatures and higher current densities. Since the cells require inert anodes, process emissions from the use of carbon anodes would also be reduced.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Successful small-scale demonstration (TRL 6).

Key initiatives

A prototype plant with a multipolar cell was developed by Alcoa in the 1970s; however, it shut down due to high costs and various technical challenges. More recent exploratory research and testing have been conducted by both Northwest Aluminium and Argonne Laboratory.


Novel physical designs for anodes

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

The physical design of anodes can be altered to improve energy efficiency of Hall-Héroult cells. For example, sloped and perforated anodes make electrolysis more efficient by allowing better circulation within the electrolyte bath, while vertical electrode cells save energy by reducing heat loss and improving electrical conductivity. Energy savings can be considerable, with one source estimating slotted anodes can reduce energy by 2 to 2.5 kWh per kg of aluminium.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Technology scale up to commercial demonstration or wide scale deployment, depending on the specific technology.

Key initiatives

A slotted anode design has been commercialised by Aloca, although uptake remains relatively limited. Testing of other designs is being undertaken by Rio Tinto, Alcan, and Norsk.


Direct carbothermic reduction of alumina

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Direct carbothermic reduction of alumina would reduce energy consumption by approximately 20 to 30%. There may also be potential to power the furnace using concentrating solar power, which would reduce need for fossil fuel energy and thus CO2 emissions.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Successful pilot testing and demonstration (TRL5-6) of carbothermic reduction processes.

Key initiatives

The Novel Technologies for Enhanced Energy and Exergy Efficiencies in Primary Aluminium Production Industry (ENEXAL) project, which was financed by the EU Commission from 2010 to 2014, conducted research into carbothermic reduction processes. Australia-based company Calsmelt had developed a pilot proof of concept carbothermic reduction technology called Thermical as of 2013, but the company appears to have folded in 2016. ALCOA and ELKEM developed the Advanced Reactor Process, and developed a pilot reactor in Norway, but it is unclear whether they are still pursuing its development.


Kaolinite reduction

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Kaolinite reduction would produce aluminium using kaolin, a common clay mineral, rather than bauxite. The reducing cells would operate at a lower temperature and would retain heat more efficiently, and thus could reduce gross energy consumption by approximately 12% (representing the net impact of energy used for reactions, which is less than conventional processes, and energy used for raw materials, which is higher than conventional processes).

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Develop small scale prototype, and if prototype shows potential for feasibility, conduct initial pilot test.

Key initiatives

Various research efforts have occurred over the years; however, we are not aware of any specific initiatives that have made substantial progress in recent years in moving beyond the research stage. While in 2015 RUSAL reported it was researching kaolin clay technologies and planned to develop a demonstration facility in early 2016, no updates appear to be available on this effort.


Electrolysis demand response

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

The technology could enable an aluminium smelter to increase or decrease its electricity consumption by 25% for up to several hours at a given time, without adverse impacts on the production process. Thus, the smelter could increase power consumption at times when demand and prices are low, effectively 'storing' electricity in molten aluminium so that electricity consumption can be reduced at times of high demand and prices. This would help with managing supply and demand variability in the power sector, which will become increasingly important as higher shares of variable renewable energy are added to the grid.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Complete successful industrial-scale pilot project, and scale up to larger-scale demonstration.

Key initiatives

TRIMET is currently operating an industrial scale pilot of the EnPot demand response technology in 120 furnaces at its Essen, Germany location. The total 'storage' capacity of the pilot project is 1,120 MWh, and has a 95% efficiency level.


New physical recycling techniques

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

New techniques for physically sorting scrap metal include fluidized bed sink float technology, colour sorting, and laser induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS). Their application could reduce energy use in secondary aluminium production by 12%, relative to current methods of secondary production. However, there are drawbacks to some of the techniques, such the environmental impact of the chemicals used in colour sorting.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Scale up to commercial-scale demonstration or wider-spread commercialization, depending on the technique.

Key initiatives

Alcan and Los Alamos National Laboratory undertook pilot tests of the LIBS system in the early 1990s. Huron Valley Steel Company is believed to be using colour sorting to separate aluminium at full scale.

Explore all 100+ innovation gaps across 38 key technologies and sectors here.