While the world searches for increased fuel efficiency and reduced carbon emissions, aluminium is playing an important role in achieving these goals. The metal is lightweight, exceptionally strong, and infinitely recyclable.
Aluminium is the metal of choice in many parts of the construction industry. It is used for roofs with the added benefit that it reflects up to 97% of sunlight, cladding on buildings, doors and windows, and many other applications and products.
Very little aluminium is consumed during the lifetime of aluminium products. It is used for as long as the product is needed and then is available for recycling. Frequently this is referred to as a cradle-to-cradle life cycle.
Unlike many other materials, recycled aluminium is not degraded by the recycling process. It shares all the properties of the original aluminium including its strength, malleability, and corrosion resistance. It also shares the property of being able to be recycled, meaning that it can be recycled time and time again.
The recycling process is highly efficient and takes just 5% of the energy used in mining and refining new aluminium from bauxite ore.
The reduction in carbon footprint achieved by recycling aluminium equates to a reduction of 90 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and 100,000 GWh of electricity, This is over twice as much energy as was obtained from all renewable sources in the UK during 2013.
Of all the aluminium that has ever been mined and refined globally, which is over a billion tonnes, 75% of it is in use today. Much of that 75% has been recycled several times over. However, as we use ever increasing quantities of aluminium in the construction and other industries there remains a demand for the newly mined and refined (primary) metal. Globally aluminium production uses around 65% primary and 35% recycled aluminium.
While the built environment isn’t the only element in the global climate challenges we must face, it is a significant and important factor. In the UK the construction and maintenance of buildings accounts for around half of total carbon dioxide emissions.
The greater use we make of aluminium in the construction industry, the more we are able to minimise our carbon footprint. Aluminium is one of the most sustainable building materials in the world.