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IAI models 1.5-degree decarbonization scenario to reduce aluminum industry emissions


Could reduce sector's emissions by 95% between 2018 and 2050

No single solution for aluminum industry to reduce emissions

Three pathways to decarbonization formulated

  • Author
  • Jacqueline Holman
  • Editor
  • Adithya Ram
  • Commodity
  • Coal Electric Power Energy Transition Metals

The International Aluminium Institute has modelled a 1.5-degree decarbonization scenario in its efforts to drive the industry to reduce emissions and meet global climate goals, it said Oct. 26.

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The modelling was based on the International Energy Agency's Net-Zero by 2050 scenario and complements existing IAI work, such as detailed historical emissions, the 'business as usual' scenario to 2050 and the previously released 'beyond 2 degrees' scenario, IAI director, scenarios & forecasts Marlen Bertram told a pre-COP26 virtual media briefing.

According to the data, a 1.5-degree scenario approach could reduce the sector's total greenhouse gas emissions by 95% between 2018 and 2050.

However, it will require a significant reduction in carbon intensity of the primary metal from 16.1 mt of CO2 equivalent per 1 mt of aluminum in 2021 to below 1 mt in 2050.

Bertram said that under the BAU scenario, the carbon intensity of aluminum was forecast to be 15.8 mt of CO2e/mt, down from 16.1 mt in 2021 due to newer plants and energy reduction.

However, to align with the beyond 2 degrees scenario, emissions for primary production needed to decrease to 2.5 mt CO2e/mt and for the 1.5 degree scenario it should fall to 0.5 mt CO2e/mt.

"0.5 mt per 1 mt is currently lower than the intensity of recycled aluminum, which is a very heavy change that would happen to the industry. That would mean a reduction of thermal and direct emissions of more than 90% for 1.5 degrees, 60% for the beyond 2 degrees [scenario] and basically zero emissions for electricity for both scenarios," Bertram said.

No single solution

IAI secretary general Miles Prosser said that addressing climate required action and emissions reduction across the aluminum industry and supply chain, although one of the first conclusions of the work had been that there was no single solution for the industry to reduce emissions.

"There is not one obvious alternative production method, no single behavioral change that is going to provide the solution. It requires looking at a whole range of emission sources along the supply chain and in some cases exploring multiple possible solutions to that," Posser said.

The IAI identified three pathways to decarbonization earlier in 2021, which IAI deputy secretary general and director of sustainability Pernelle Nunez said remained the same under the 1.5 degree scenario, although the rate of change and pace had been sped up.

The three pathways were electricity decarbonization; reducing direct and thermal emissions; and optimizing recycling and resource efficiency.

Under electricity decarbonization, Nunez said that over 60% of the industry's 1.1 billion mt in emissions came from producing electricity consumed within the smelting process. Nunez added that ways to reduce emissions included introducing more decarbonized power generation into the system and potentially deploying new technology such as carbon capture, utilization and storage.

To reduce direct and thermal emissions, which come from chemical reactions or fossil fuel usage within processes, there were a whole host of different technological solutions being explored, Nunez said, pointing towards electrification, fuel switching from fossil fuel to green hydrogen and CCUS, among others.

Although the aluminum industry already had a high recycling rate of 70%, Nunez said that the collection rates across all the different end users should be increased to near 100% under the third pathway.

"If we're able to do that and take other actions that really maximize the value of our material, we're able to reduce consequently the need for some of the primary aluminum that would be used in the system. Just by reducing the demand for primary aluminum through our recycling activities and resource efficiency action, we could potentially save around 300 million mt/year," Nunez added.

Technology, investment key

Overall, she said that technology deployment was at the heart of all three pathways, as was investment, collaboration and innovation to move the industry from a concept/pilot phase to sector-wide deployment.

A number of aluminum producers were already starting to invest in innovative solutions to reduce their environmental impacts and align with the three pathways to decarbonization, which was promising, Nunez said.

"Investment is critical. We really need to have access to capital... so it needs to be available on local, regional and national levels to help enable the transition and also support some of the situations to mitigate the impact of climate change," she said.

Transparency and disclosure was also important, which Nunez said the IAI promoted, because having defined metrics and common approaches ensured the ability to track progress using the same processes and enabled informed decisions.

In the pathways to decarbonization, she said there were also roles for public-private partnerships combining private technology and innovation with public resources to reduce risk and deliver projects at scale, as well as for mutually beneficial customer and producer partnerships working towards a shared vision.

"In reality it is a challenge that is too large for any one single sector to overcome on its own. The cost of decarbonizing just the electricity-related portion of our emission could come to about $1.5 trillion just based on our preliminary analysis, so that's obviously going to require some significant support, as well as policy action from governments in order to help us over the next 10, 15, 20 years in order to achieve these global climate goals," Nunez said.