Mapping the global flow of aluminum: From liquid aluminum to end-use goods

Demand for aluminum in final products has increased 30-fold since 1950 to 45 million tonnes per year, with forecasts predicting this exceptional growth to continue so that demand will reach 2-3 times today's levels by 2050. Aluminum production uses 3.5% of global electricity and causes 1% of global CO2 emissions, while meeting a 50% cut in emissions by 2050 against growing demand would require at least a 75% reduction in CO2 emissions per tonne of aluminum produced—a challenging prospect. In this paper we trace the global flows of aluminum from liquid metal to final products, revealing for the first time a complete map of the aluminum system and providing a basis for future study of the emissions abatement potential of material efficiency. The resulting Sankey diagram also draws attention to two key issues. First, around half of all liquid aluminum (∼39 Mt) produced each year never reaches a final product, and a detailed discussion of these high yield losses shows significant opportunities for improvement. Second, aluminum recycling, which avoids the high energy costs and emissions of electrolysis, requires signification 'dilution' (∼ 8 Mt) and 'cascade' (∼ 6 Mt) flows of higher aluminum grades to make up for the shortfall in scrap supply and to obtain the desired alloy mix, increasing the energy required for recycling.

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