Mapping the global journey of anthropogenic aluminium: a trade-linked multilevel material flow analysis

Material cycles have become increasingly coupled and interconnected in a globalizing era. While material flow analysis (MFA) has been widely used to characterize stocks and flows along technological life cycle within a specific geographical area, trade networks among individual cycles have remained largely unexplored. Here we developed a trade-linked multilevel MFA model to map the contemporary global journey of anthropogenic aluminum. We demonstrate that the anthropogenic aluminum cycle depends substantially on international trade of aluminum in all forms and becomes highly interconnected in nature. While the Southern hemisphere is the main primary resource supplier, aluminum production and consumption concentrate in the Northern hemisphere, where we also find the largest potential for recycling. The more developed countries tend to have a substantial and increasing presence throughout the stages after bauxite refining and possess highly consumption-based cycles, thus maintaining advantages both economically and environmentally. A small group of countries plays a key role in the global redistribution of aluminum and in the connectivity of the network, which may render some countries vulnerable to supply disruption. The model provides potential insights to inform government and industry policies in resource criticality, supply chain security, value chain management, and cross-boundary environmental impacts mitigation.