US aluminium, copper industries to receive $900 mln from Energy Department program to cut emissions

The US Department of Energy selected five base metals projects to receive more than $900 million in federal investment from its Industrial Demonstration Program (IDP), leading to a reduction of four million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, according to a statement by the Department on Monday March 25

These projects aim to “decarbonize energy-intensive industries, reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions, support good-paying union jobs, revitalize industrial communities and strengthen the nation’s manufacturing competitiveness,” the Department said.

The funding can be seen as a step toward the US government’s greater ambition to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50-52% from 2005 levels in 2030, according to Fastmarkets analyst Andy Farida.

“This funding could play a pivotal role for the US administration to achieve a circular economy, and is in line with the current administration’s ambition to lower carbon emissions,” Farida said, adding that the administration also recently released the strictest car emissions plans.

On Wednesday March 20, the administration issued climate regulations that limit the amount of pollution allowed from tailpipes, which is likely to cause more than half of new cars sold in the US to be zero-emissions vehicles by 2032.

The country can use this opportunity to provide jobs and focus on domestic manufacturing due to deglobalization, according to Farida. “After all, aluminium is now a critical metal,” he said.

A December 15 clarification of the Section 45X tax credit under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included aluminium in the critical minerals list.

“After decades of decline, these investments lay the groundwork for a potential rebound of this critical sector. These investments aim to improve US industry’s competitiveness and efficiency while simultaneously decarbonizing and onshoring supply chains for materials critical for defense and energy sectors,” the Department said in its statement.

The five projects in the “aluminium and metals” industries include a primary low-carbon aluminium smelter to be built by Chicago-based Century Aluminum.

Renewable energy

Also among those projects is Constellium’s facility in Ravenswood, West Virginia, which will begin award negotiations for up to $75 million to deploy a first-of-a-kind zero-carbon aluminum casting plant in the US.

Constellium will be using the investment for implementation of low-to-no emissions technologies in its Ravenswood facility, to will help support the decarbonization of the plant’s energy-intensive operations in its casthouses by installing low-emissions SmartMelt furnaces, which can operate using a range of fuels, including clean hydrogen, the company said in a statement.

The company announced on March 12 that it was moving to test hydrogen utilization as a power source in its casthouses at an industrial scale following “successful laboratory-scale trials” at its main research and development (R&D) center, C-TEC in France.

The casthouse at Ravenswood consists of five furnace complexes with capacities from 40 to 100 tonnes, capable of producing both coil and plate products and specializing in high-purity casting for the aerospace plate market, according to the company website.

The company expects the new project to help maximize recycled scrap intake and to improve worker safety with the introduction of a hands-free casting process.

Recycling

Another project selected by the Department is the zero-waste advanced aluminium recycling project led by Beachwood, Ohio-based Real Alloy Recycling, which plans to construct the first zero-waste salt slag recycling facility in the country and the most energy efficient facility of its kind in Wabash, Indiana, with the $67.3 million IDP funding.

“Salt slag recycling closes the loop by allowing all products generated from the recycling of aluminum scrap and dross to be reused. It aligns perfectly with our sustainability strategy of eliminating waste and reducing carbon emissions. We look forward to partnering with the team at the Department of Energy to commercialize this process,” Terry Hogan, Real Alloy president and chief executive officer, said.

Fort-Lupton, Colorado-based Golden Aluminum was also among the projects selected.

The company will use the up to $22.3 million in funding to upgrade its facility using the Nexcast process to reduce natural gas consumption, improve
process efficiency and recycle 15% more mixed-grade aluminum scrap.

The upgrades will allow the facility to produce aluminum products for electric vehicles (EVs) and other clean energy technology applications, and the project is highly replicable among other US aluminum producers, according to the Department’s announcement.

Copper

Copper recycler Wieland’s Advanced Copper Recycling Facility in Shelbyville, Kentucky, was also among those selected.

The project, which is to receive up to $270 million in funding, plans to expand the company’s recycling capacity and capabilities by enabling the recycling of a diverse mix of copper scrap and other metals, turning it into high-purity copper.

“This endeavor aims to significantly reduce carbon emissions, potentially establishing the lowest carbon footprint globally for high-end copper applications. Beyond facilitating the recycling of a broad variety of copper scrap, the project intends to increase the resilience of the US copper supply chain, as global copper demand is expected to almost double by 2035, driven by trends including electric vehicle adoption, connected smart electronic devices and the broader automation, electrification and digitization of industry,” according to the Department.

In total, the Department selected 33 projects from eight difficult-to-decarbonize industries to receive up to $6 billion in funding under the IDP.

“Today’s announcement is the largest investment in industrial decarbonization in American history, helping to position American manufacturers and workers to lead the global clean energy economy,” the Department said.

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