Aluminium: the material of the future
Aluminium is an incredibly versatile material, prefered by builders and designers alike for its strength, durability, felxibility, lightness and corrosion-resistance.
It can also be adapted to many different architectural styles due to modern powder coating technology offering plain colour and decorative finishes, such as DecoWood timber look aluminium.
Recent studies into the sustainability of aluminium have rigorously investigated its life cycle, recyclability, greenhouse gas emissions, responsible minig practices and its relative impact on the environment in architectural products compared to timber and pvc.
The studies have demonstrated that aluminium is environmentally sound and the aluminium industry is heading in the right direction in managing its eco-footprint.
In 2008, a survey found that 99% of plants internationally had Envrionmental, Health and Safety Management Systems in place, and 97% had achieved ISO14000 certification, the standard that guides and manages the assessment of voluntary Environmental Management Systems.
Aluminium Production and Recycling Process
Life Cycle and Recycling
Aluminium is a highly durable and non-corrosive material, ensuring a long life span in any application including building products.
Approximately 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still being used in some form, having been through countless loops of its life cycle. The aluminium industry has in recent years committed itself to closing the material loop to ensure a renewable cradle to cradle life cycle in which most used aluminium is recycled for reuse, eliminating the "grave" or landfilling stage.
A key feature of aluminium is that it can be recycled indefinitely with negligible losses of properties. Furthermore, the recycling process uses only 5% of the energy required for primary production, potentially reducing the impact that the aluminium production process will have on the environment in future years. Since the year 2000, the production of aluminium from recycled products worldwide rose from 13 million to 15 million tonnes per year.
The high price of aluminium scrap ensures a solid collection rate, especially in the destruction and demolition of buildings. A Survey into collection rates of aluminium in demolished buildings in six European countries found that between 92 and 98 per cent of the aluminium contained in the building was sent to recycling centres.
It is estimated that there are 400 million tonnes of aluminium contained in buildings globally that can be recycled for use by future generations, making aluminium a material for the future.
Recycling aluminium means lower energy requirements, less natural resources used, less land use from landfill, and less waste and pollution. Even residues from the recycling process, such as salt slag, filter dust and skimmings, are recycled for use in a variety of applications.
The global trend of dematerialisation means that we have greater capabilities of producing the same products using less and less material. Despite this and the increase in the recycling as stated above, bauxite mining operations have responded to the demand to mine more responsibly by reducing their ecological footprint.
Land Usage and Rehabilitation
Between 2002 and 2006, the average annual bauxite mining land area rehabilitated was equal to the average annual area being opened up, and as such is considered "land area footprint neutra". Furthermore there are plans to rehabilitate more than 90% of the total area that was used for bauxite mining and infrasturcture since operations commenced almost 70 years ago.
In accordance with the Environmental Management Systems utilised by mines and in line with International Standards, bauxite mining operations aim to either restore land used to its pre-mining state using native flora and fauna, or alternatively any other land-use that benefits the local community.
In 2002, approximately 83% of the total mined area was rehabilitated, of which 80% returned to native forests, 10% to tropical forests, 4% to commercial forests and 2 % to native pasture. The remaining 4% predominately for urban and industrial development, housing and recreation.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Energy Use
The aluminium industry regularly publishes reports on its performance against 13 sustainability indicators, as well as a complete life cycle inventory. Overall the industry saw a 14% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions produced from the processing of primary aluminium between 2000 and 2005, despite a 20% increase in production.
Click here for a copy of the latest report from the Australian Aluminium Council.
In 2007, the industry saw a 56% reduction in perfluorocarbon emissions per tonne of primary aluminium produced compared with 2000 levels. Looking forward, the industry aims to reduce emissions by a further 50% by 2020.
Hydropower has always been and continues to be the most important source of electrical energy for the aluminium smelting process that requires the most amount of energy in the primary production of aluminium. The increased use of hydropower in the electricity mix has resulted in a decrease from 12 to 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions for every tonne of aluminium produced since 2000.
The steady increase in aluminium recycling has and will continue to save energy and minimise gas emissions due to the lesser amount of energy required to recyle aluminium compared to primary production.
Decorative Imaging Committment to the Environment
Decorative Imaging Pty Ltd does not overlook its own daily operations as an integral component of its pledge of sustainability. On a regular basis we put ourselves under the microscope and amend our practices to reflect our committment to the environment. Below is a list of some of the key practices we have adopted recently:
Boin, U 2004, Collection of Aluminium From Buildings in Europe, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
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European Aluminium Association, Date Unknown, Sustainability and Life Cycle Assessment, http://alueurope.eu/?page_id=162, viewed December 12, 2011
International Aluminium Institute, Date Unknown, Green Building World Aluminium, http://greenbuilding.world-aluminium.org, viewed November 1, 2011
Construction Matters, Date Unknown, Sustainable Window Alliance release new findings - glass critical to energy efficiency, http://constructionmattersmagazine.com.au/NewsArchivedDetail.aspx?id=83, viewed November 15, 2011
Australian Aluminium Council Ltd, Date Unknown, Sustainability, http://aluminium.org.au/sustainability, viewed July 23, 2015