The Three Climate Change Commandments: Reduced Consumption, Improved Utilisation and Recycling

Tinna Traustadóttir, EVP Sales and Services, Landsvirkjun and Sólveig Kr. Bergmann, CCO, Norðurál.

We all have a role to play in the fight against climate change, but conditions and circumstances are not the same everywhere. The Paris Agreement makes provisions for changed behaviour by countries and individuals if the set objectives are to be met. The three climate change commandments are: reduced consumption, improved utilisation, and recycling. And they are very much our responsibility. Those that can do more must do exactly that. The people of Iceland are in pole position in that regard, for a number of reasons.

A profound portion of global carbon emissions comes from burning fossil fuels: coal, oil and natural gas. Fossil fuels are needed to run cars, ships and airplanes, and many countries rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity. Therefore, every little step towards reducing dependency on fossil fuels is a step in the right direction.

Greenest Aluminium in the World

Electricity in Iceland is generated almost fully from sustainable energy sources. This means that Iceland is well geared to replace fossil fuels with electricity and electric fuel. In addition, this unique position means that various industries have much lower carbon footprint in Iceland compared to other countries, thanks to the green electricity.

This applies specifically to power intensive industries. Aluminium manufacturing falls into that category. Aluminium manufacturing in Iceland has one of the lowest carbon footprints worldwide, mainly due to the fact that it is produced with renewable energy. Manufacturing aluminium is energy intensive, which means that its carbon footprint is high globally, on account of the energy source. Using renewable energy when manufacturing aluminium stems an enormous amount of carbon emissions.

Aluminium is essential, as it plays a key role in the energy switch and energy savings in the whole world. Cars and airplanes are much lighter and more energy efficient when manufactured from aluminium, rather than steel. Vehicles that burn fossil fuels use less of it and electric cars made from aluminium have a much longer range than the heavier ones. The huge advantage of aluminium is that it can be recycled almost infinitely, and 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in use.

Therefore, when aluminium is manufactured with green and renewable energy, the beneficial effect for the fight against climate change is cumulative.

Every Link in the Chain is Important

However, it is always vitally important not to stop but continue to seek ways for improvement. Take Norðurál‘s product Natur-AlÔ as an example. When Natur-Al aluminium is manufactured, the whole value chain is scrutinised, from the start when bauxite is mined from the earth, until the aluminium is delivered to the buyer. Given the modern technology available, this is the most environmentally friendly method to manufacture aluminium. Norðurál and other aluminium smelters in Iceland partake in several projects, one of them with Carbfix, in search of ways to further reduce carbon emissions from aluminium manufacturing.

When Natur-Al is manufactured, the CO2 emissions are four times lower than the industry average, or approximately 4 tonnes per tonne of aluminium. The average is 18 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of aluminium, but in China it reaches 20 tonnes when the aluminium smelters are powered by burning coal.

Green Aluminium for Electric Cars

Natur-Al has been very well received. This year, Norðurál made a sales contract with the Austrian company Hammerer Aluminium Industries for 150 000 tonnes of Natur-Al for the manufacture of electric cars. The contract received wide attention as it is the first long-term contract for green aluminium. It indicates that the market is ready to pay extra for green energy and green manufacturing.

Further Processing Aluminium with Green Energy

Another way to better utilise green energy in Iceland is to further process aluminium and manufacture more valuable products from it. This summer a new power purchase agreement was made between Landsvirkjun and Norðurál, which makes it possible for Norðurál to embark on a ISK 15 billion investment project in connection with a new production line in a casting house, where aluminium rods will be produced to meet the high demand from buyers in Europe. The aluminium rods will be used in manufacturing different products, i.e., cars, airplanes, electronics and buildings.

This means further processing the aluminium, not increased aluminium manufacturing. Also, it is value adding, as aluminium rods are more valuable than ingots which are cast in the existing casting house. Manufacturing aluminium rods in Iceland, using renewable energy, results in lower greenhouse gas emissions, rather than sending ingots abroad for melting to produce aluminium rods, using another source of energy. The collaboration between Norðurál and Landsvirkjun promotes more value production in Iceland, for the benefit of the country, the environment and the whole world.