Aluminum industry and ecological transition
The aluminum industry is ready for the ecological transition, but asks political decision makers for a transparent and sustainable plan for decarbonisation and safeguarding energy supply.
Aluminum is a strategic material and has what it takes to support the energy transition. But the EU aluminum industry needs clear industrial policies, certainty on energy supply and new rules relating to emissions. This is the message launched to institutions and political decision makers by the Metef Energy Summit conference, which took place on 31 March 2023 in Bologna at the conclusion of Mecspe 2023. The summit highlighted the concrete contributions and technological solutions that the aluminum industry in Italy and around the world it can activate to achieve the circular economy, sustainability and decarbonisation objectives essential to the ecological transition.
A plan for the decarbonisation of the aluminum industry: the interventions of important figures for the aluminum sector
The first important speech was that of Mario Conserva, President of Metef: "The aluminum industrial sector is worth a total of over 50 billion euros in average annual turnover in Italy, with thousands of companies, many small and medium-sized, engaged in transformations and downstream processing, which create real wealth in the sector's territory. From the panel emerged a picture of the possible future of the production of the raw material aluminum on the basis of the studies of the International Aluminum Institute, presented for the first time in Italy, an analysis very attentive to the conservation of energy contents and attention to the environment through the development of technologies, the optimal use of metal and recovery and recycling. The aluminum supply chain has had, and will continue to have, extraordinary growth rates at a global level; However, there are evident critical situations from the energy and eco-sustainability aspects in the metal cycle, from the production of the raw material to intermediate transformations, from processing and finishing to final uses. The industry must commit to offering products that are maximally recyclable and which, within the virtuous chain of circularity, contribute to reducing the impact on emissions and energy consumption. It is evidently a priority objective that the wealth of experience and knowledge gained in Europe and in our country in over 140 years of aluminum is safeguarded; from the various interventions on the panel it clearly emerged that guarantees on energy supply, in terms of reliability and cost, are the essential requirement for any serious industrial plan in the segment.
Clarity, transparency and market transversality regarding new rules relating to emissions are also considered essential elements. In this regard, the debate on the CBAM (Carbon BorderAdjustedMechanism) mechanism remains very open, i.e. the compensation system designed by the EU to align its environmental costs with those of importing countries; the issue closely concerns light metal (in addition to steel, among metals); the message from the aluminum system to decision makers is that the mechanism entails insurmountable application complexities and for a country like ours, specifically devoid of primary aluminum production, it would lead to heavy losses in competitiveness for downstream SMEs, as has been reported several times last year by FACE, the Federation of Aluminum Consumers in Europe. In essence, the so-called environmental duty is an ambitious measure, certainly to be considered with great attention; but excessive leaps forward can be very risky, energy efficiency and CO2 capture technologies must find solutions with investments and operating costs that do not put the survival of the segment at risk".
Gabriele Cirieco, Business Development Strategist, Strategic Advice - APCO Worldwide, also expressed his opinion on the aluminum industry and ecological transition: "Europe discovers the strategic relevance of the manufacturing sector with some delay and changes its approach on industrial policy and energy policy, two key elements dramatically interconnected, with slowness and delay. It is obvious that talking about industrial policy and energy policy also means talking about sustainability and the environment, the priority for safeguarding the planet. At an institutional level, both in member states and in the European Union, the debate has long been limited to different silos with few, often conflicting, points of contact. Only now has it been understood how vital the energy issue is for industrial development and environmental protection. Moments of discussion are rare and extremely important because they manage to bring together intersectoral skills and points of view. Meetings like the one held in Bologna, with top-level speakers, fill the gaps; above all the lack of the habit of broad and open consultation of the parties involved, which could certainly inspire the development of broader and more holistic policies by the administration of the Member States and the Union. We professionals must also do our part to the full and aim for an important involvement - direct and indirect - of political decision makers in the next edition, to ensure that the messages reach the recipient, that is, the political decision maker".
Another important contribution were the words of Giuseppe Toia, Vice President Energy of ASSOMET: “The EU is facing inflation in energy prices (electricity, gas and CO2) far higher than that of global competitors, being committed in an ambitious energy transition plan. The most obvious effect is that 50% of primary aluminum production capacity in the EU has been eliminated in recent years due to high energy prices, and the reliance on imports of the raw material is now more than 80% of requirement. However, the aluminum industry has a strategy to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, moving on several objectives: developing the recovery and recycling of old and new scrap, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, or making the secondary metal completely suitable to achieve the same properties as the primary metal; creating production technologies in both the primary and secondary sectors with zero emissions. The European and Italian aluminum industry finds itself at a crossroads: it is essential to act to mitigate the critical issues and enhance the strengths. However, this industry is among the few segments that have identified a reasonably viable path towards decarbonisation".
Claudio Palmieri, Energy Manager of Hera Spa, also had his say: "To avoid a messy and very expensive path towards carbon neutrality, policies should implement rewarding tools for integrated solutions that place energy efficiency at the top of the priorities. It is important to remember in this regard the White Certificates mechanism, based on interventions that involve «Variation of materials entering the production process, including the use of waste material from processing, for the same finished or semi-finished product». It rewards the production of goods starting from secondary raw materials, it allows both to reduce the depletion of the planet's resources and to generate important energy savings, it is today in Italy a very relevant tool for putting energy efficiency back at the center of decarbonisation paths ”.
Mahmood Daylami, Secretary General of the Gulf Aluminum Council (GAC), spoke to express his opinion regarding the ecological transition for the aluminum industry: “Globally it is likely that we will exceed a dangerous threshold of global warming within the next decade, we still have the possibility of reversing the trend if drastic actions are taken mainly by countries such as the United States, China and the EU, not only by reduce the use of fossil fuels, but also to help developing nations develop their renewable energy facilities and infrastructure. However, to date the facts are that coal is still used to produce more than a third of the electricity used. The problem of reducing emissions from the Gulf aluminum industry essentially focuses on three paths: decarbonization of the electricity used, decarbonization of production processes, development of aluminum recycling."
Cesare Pozzi, professor of Business Economics, LUISS University in Rome, reflects on a plan for decarbonisation and transition ecology for the foundry sector: "Talking about energy policies in a modern society requires great prudence, as in the analysis overlaps two perspectives which in an approximate but direct way could be defined as technical and economic, and which have a profound impact on the analytical structure of each other. There is no doubt that there are serious risks for manufacturing in the EU, the energy issue is central and the problems posed today on this issue are so relevant for our future that we hope that a 'virtuously debating' space will finally be created to overcome prejudices widespread and consolidated, and thus attempt to delve deeper into the reality of things by examining the merits of the possible strategies towards which to direct both the efforts and policies of a community. The ambition of the proposals put on the table by advanced countries derives not only from the ineffectiveness of the instruments proposed, but also from the absence of the proposal of an alternative lifestyle. The case of aluminum and its industrial system, of significant importance for the global manufacturing segment which is at very serious risk of survival, particularly in old Europe, represents, in the context of energy issues, a sensational example of the decision-making inefficiency of our decision makers".
Finally, we report the speech by Mauro Piasere, Chief Operating Officer of Saipem's Robotics and Industrialized Solutions Business Line: "There is no industry that can afford to achieve its survival and growth without taking into account its energy needs and the impact that creates for the environment in terms of carbon footprint. It is clear that you have to pay for electricity, so the topic of energy efficiency is intuitive. Europe, like other areas of the world, has decided that those who emit CO2 must pay a tax, the scenarios of the cost of CO2 emission indicate a range between 90 and 110 euros per ton. Starting from the capture of CO2, today there are consolidated technologies with solutions for different sizes of plants that allow the capture of up to 200 t/day of exhaust gases with a CO2 content between 8 and 12%. The transport of CO2 in gaseous or liquefied form is free of technological risks and must be addressed by emitter districts in order to rationalize investment costs. Saving compared to the mere payment of a tax is possible through investments similar to those made for energy efficiency and through district collaboration for transport and seizure, but a cultural change is needed in industries that still perceive the problem of emissions not directly linked to their activities or not manageable due to technological complexity".
Source: A&L Aluminum Alloys Pressure Diecasting Foundry Tecniques