INTL AL CONF: Alcoa launches first low-carbon alumina brand, EcoSource
Aluminium and alumina producer Alcoa has launched the first low-carbon smelter-grade alumina brand, chief executive officer Roy Harvey announced at the Fastmarkets International Aluminium Conference.
Speaking on Wednesday September 23, Harvey said the low-carbon alumina brand, EcoSource, will help its customers meet their sustainability goals.
“We are launching a brand-new product, EcoSource, and it is designed to be a low-carbon alumina product,” he told conference delegates.
“It is the first [low-carbon alumina brand] and a very unique product offering for alumina. It allows our alumina customers to be really be thoughtful of the value chain.”
EcoSource is produced with no more than 0.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) per tonne of alumina. This measurement includes Alcoa’s direct emissions from the bauxite and alumina refining process and indirect emissions from the energy consumers in the process.
The industry average is said to be around 1.2 tonnes of CO2e.
The launch comes alongside the aluminium industry’s drive for “green” low-carbon aluminium, where there have been questions about the sustainability of the rest of the supply chain. Market participants have raised concerns that even though there are low-carbon aluminium brands, it does not mean the bauxite mining or alumina refining is sustainable.
“It is a really exciting development in a space that is continuing to grow very quickly,” Harvey said.
Alcoa said its alumina portfolio has the world’s lowest average carbon emissions. The producer added that it had focused on sustainability throughout the whole aluminium supply chain from bauxite mining to low-carbon alumina refining and smelters running on renewable power.
The new EcoSource brand will be part of Alcoa’s Sustana line of sustainable products. It also includes EcoDura, which is produced with a minimum of 50% recycled content, and EcoLum.
“We’ve had up until now two main products in our Sustana line and as you know this is a market that is really just starting to build,” Harvey said.
EcoLum is a primary aluminium brand with no more than 4 tonnes of Co2 equivalent per tonne of aluminium, including indirect and direct emissions - all the way from bauxite mining to casting the finished product.
Alcoa said the carbon emissions from EcoLum are roughly three and a half times better than the industry average, when considering CO2 equivalents across the full value chain.
“From an aluminium standpoint we are actually starting out as one of the lowest carbon emitters of all aluminium producers,” Harvey added.
Alcoa announced in October 2019 that it was launching a multi-year review of its aluminium portfolio, placing roughly half of its global smelting capacity under scrutiny.
“As we go through this portfolio analysis and as we drive for new sources of energy and make sure we can more competitive financially - it also allows us to be what we believe will be the lowest carbon emitter per tonne of aluminium in the future as well,” Harvey said.
“When you look across that whole value chain it shows Alcoa can be not just a participant in this new sustainable drive but really a leader.”
Carbon-free aluminium in Apple Macs
Alcoa and Rio Tinto joined forces back in May 2018 to launch joint venture Elysis, a zero-carbon technology that replaces the carbon anode with an advanced conductive material, so it releases oxygen instead of carbon dioxide during the aluminium smelting process.
Harvey told the conference that the project had been the “holy grail” for many years in the aluminium industry.
In December 2019, Elysis sold its first batch of carbon-free aluminium to co-investor Apple.
“The first metal has been sold to Apple to go into the 6-inch MacBook plus - so that’s a pretty cool place for it to be used,” Harvey said.
“For us, it represents the culmination of what is a more sensible process, it can be less costly… and in the end it fits perfectly with the trends we’re seeing right now for the lowest carbon solutions possible.”
Looking ahead to the future, Harvey said Alcoa will continue to build on its sustainability drive and continue to innovate.
“Five years from now I think Alcoa will have been able to move through these programs and we will be stronger and smarter, and we’ll have built into some of the new innovations coming out,” Harvey concluded.
“It will be a matter of resilience and looking for those new market opportunities and making sure that we are not just a participant, but we are absolutely a leader when it comes to technology and sustainability.”