Napoleon and aluminium
It is said that Napoleon III allowed his most distinguished guests to eat with aluminum cutlery instead of gold. He saw significant potential in producing lightweight warfare materials and greatly supported the research on aluminum. The exclusive shimmer around aluminum has been around since it was developed in the 19th century. Since then, the demand for aluminum has steadily increased. It is used for everything from aircraft to engine blocks, electronics, furniture, and aluminum foil in the kitchen. Next to steel, aluminum is today the most produced metal in the world.
Super properties for sustainability
Aluminum has several remarkable properties for producing durable products. It has, among other things, lightweight, is durable, and does not rust easily. In addition, it is very easy to recycle. A significant advantage is that aluminum can be recycled infinitely many times and that it is durable. 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use. For example, it can be compared to a modest 6% for all the plastic.
- The energy savings when producing aluminum from scrap instead of from bauxite ore equals to as much as 95%. The volumes we recover in cooperation with the industry and municipalities save over 1.000,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year, says Johan Thunholm, Managing Director Stena Aluminium.
1. Collection and sorting generating climate benefits
The aluminium loop starts in one perspective with the collection of production spill from factories, end-of-life cars, and other products or from municipal recycling stations. This applies to everything from furniture, electronics to caviar tubes, and household foil.
Through collaboration with over 80,000 companies and municipalities in five countries, Stena Recycling collects and sorts more than 100,000 tonnes of aluminum every year. This has been going on for decades, long before sustainability ended up on everyone’s lips. And more awaits in the future.
Aluminum scrap reaches recycling plants in various forms. If it is pure, sorted material, it can be more easily used to become a new product. If mixed with other materials in complex products such as in cars or electronics, more advanced processes are needed to extract pure aluminum.
With magnets, screens, water baths, and sensor technology, aluminum is extracted and sorted into different grades. This is an excellent advantage as it is possible to protect important properties in more high-grade aluminum alloys.
In other words, the recycling of 100,000 tonnes of aluminum at Stena Recycling from industry saves over 1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. Annually.
- The climate benefit of using recycled aluminum is not as openly used by so many industries as it could be. It is an opportunity for manufacturers to take advantage of when they want to showcase their sustainable products to customers, becoming increasingly demanding in their purchase decisions.
2. Fulfilling the requested properties
A large part of the aluminum is processed in the south of Sweden. This is valuable as it shortens the supply routes – from the industrial waste sources to the industries that need the new aluminum. After the aluminum is sorted at the recycling facilities, it is transported to a smelter where the scrap is turned into a new alloy.
- Making an alloy resembles using a recipe. This produces a new aluminum alloy or product with specific properties suited for the end product, perhaps a new durable tire rim, a robust motor, or garden furniture.
The Stena Aluminum smelter can be found in Älmhult, Småland. Here, approximately 70,000 tonnes of aluminum alloys are produced each year, delivered to industries in the Northern Europe. 100% is made from recycled material. The processes are constantly refined to maximize scrap yield, to use less energy, and so forth.
- In other words, the climate footprint can be further reduced on the recycled aluminum demanded by the industry. This is important as the industry now has a significant focus on reducing climate impact. Sustainability managers and other decision-makers have, in recent years, become very aware of how important the material choices are if to succeed, says Johan Thunholm.
3. Liquid “thermos” aluminum turned into components
The Swedish company Ljunghäll is a supplier of quality components for the automotive industry. For example, the company manufactures components for passenger cars and heavy vehicles. They are considered a pioneer in using robotics in their industrial production. Together with Stena Aluminum, they have developed a concept for transporting liquid aluminum. At the Älmhult smelter, specially-built thermos vehicles are filled with 660-degree Celsius aluminum, which is then driven to the Ljunghäll factory. This way, the aluminum can be kept liquid all the way and used straight away to produce vehicle components.
This brings advantage because Ljunghäll can avoid using large amounts of energy melting aluminum bars when casting. Each liquid aluminum transport saves some two tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
4. 100% recycled into new products
Finally, the aluminum is back at manufacturing companies that produce anything from cars to garden equipment and furniture. The loop is closed, and yet another and new aluminum loop may be started, where industries, municipalities, and recyclers collaborate once more.
- Many industries of today use large quantities of aluminum from recycled raw materials without even thinking about it. It is not used in marketing, so here is an untapped potential for manufacturing companies. And the aluminum has the future for itself, as demand for it is spiking all over the EU. Recycling will become even more important in the future, as recycled aluminium saves so much energy and lessens greenhouse gas emissions by a lot.