NAPOLEON AND ALUMINIUM
It is said that Napoleon III allowed his most distinguished guests to eat with aluminium cutlery instead of gold. He saw significant potential in producing lightweight warfare materials and much supported the research on aluminium. The exclusive shimmer around aluminium has been around since it was developed in the 19th century. Since then, the demand for aluminium has steadily increased. It is used for everything from aircraft to engine blocks, electronics, furniture, and aluminium foil in the kitchen. Next to steel, aluminium is today the most produced metal in the world.
SUPER PROPERTIES FOR SUSTAINABILITY
Aluminium has several remarkable properties for producing durable products. It is among other things, lightweight, is durable and does not rust easily and can be recycled repeatedly. 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in use. For example, it can be compared to a modest 6% of all recycled plastic.
– The energy savings when producing aluminium from scrap instead of from bauxite ore equates to as much as 95%. The volumes we recover in cooperation with industry and municipalities save over one million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. That is the effect when comparing recycled aluminium to the production of virgin aluminium, says Johan Thunholm, Managing Director Stena Aluminium.
1. COLLECTION AND SORTING GENERATE 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 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, our sister company Stena Recycling collects and sorts more than 100,000 tonnes of aluminium annually. This has been going on for decades, long before sustainability ended up on everyone’s lips. And more awaits in the future.
Aluminium 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 aluminium.
With magnets, screens, water baths, and sensor technology, aluminium is extracted and sorted into different grades. This allows us to protect important properties in more high-grade aluminium alloys.
In other words, the recycling of 100,000 tonnes of aluminium at Stena Recycling from industry saves over 1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
– The climate benefit of using recycled aluminium is not as openly used by as 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, who are becoming increasingly demanding in their purchase decisions.
2. FULFILLING THE CUSTOMERS' REQUIREMENTS
After the aluminium is sorted at Stena Recycling's facilities, most of it is transported to Stena Aluminium's smelter in Älmhult, in south Sweden, where the sorted aluminium is turned into a new alloy. This is valuable as it shortens the supply routes – from industrial waste back to the industries that need the new aluminium product of 100% recycled material.
– Making an alloy resembles using a recipe. We produce a new aluminium 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 Aluminium smelter in Älmhult, Småland produces approximately 70,000 tonnes of aluminium alloys each year, delivered to industry in Northern European. 100% is made from recycled material. The processes are continually 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 aluminium 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 to succeed, says Johan Thunholm.
Over the years, the company has invested in several innovations for reduced emissions, higher yields of scrap raw materials, less production waste, and smarter transportation.
3. LIQUID “THERMOS” ALUMINIUM TURNED INTO COMPONENTS
The Swedish company Ljunghäll is a supplier and manufacturer of components for passenger cars and heavy vehicles. They are considered a pioneer in using robotics in their industrial production. Together with Stena Aluminium, they have developed a concept for transporting liquid aluminium. At the Älmhult smelter, specially-built thermos vehicles are filled with 660c aluminium and then transported to the Ljunghäll factory. This way, the aluminum can be kept in liquid form all the way and used immediately to produce vehicle components.
This gives Ljunghäll the advantage of avoiding the need to melt the aluminium bars when casting. Each liquid aluminium transport saves some two tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
4. 100% RECYCLED INTO NEW PRODUCTS
Finally, the aluminium is back at manufacturing companies that produce anything from cars to garden equipment and furniture. The loop is closed, and yet another and new aluminium loop may be started, where industries, municipalities, and recyclers collaborate once more.
– Today many industries use large quantities of aluminium 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 aluminium has a bright future as demand for it is increasing all over the EU. Recycling will become even more important in the future, as recycled aluminium saves so much energy and greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions.