High-polluting US aluminium, Cumbria coal mine lies, good recycling news
In a week where the USA’s ageing aluminium plants have been slammed for emitting more PFCs per ton of the metal than other countries, there’s plenty of metals supply news to showcase.
US aluminium plants emitting ‘highly potent’ greenhouse gases
Aluminium plants in the USA are responsible for coughing out tons of highly potent greenhouse gas. One Kentucky-based Century Aluminium plant and another owned by Alcoa in Washington, recently shut down, were found to emit far more PFCs or hydrocarbons per ton of the metal than plants run by the same companies in Iceland.
The US Environmental Agency found that one of the plants vented a whopping 23 tons of CF4 and a ton of hexafluoroethane, both powerful perfluorocarbons and amongst the most long-lasting greenhouse gases in existence. This is the same as the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 40,000 vehicles, and it’ll stay in the atmosphere for tens of thousands of years. A newer plant owned and operated by Century Aluminum in Iceland emits just a sixth of the PFCs.
Then there’s Alcoa’s Intalco smelter in Ferndale, Washington, which emitted just under 50 tons of PFCs in 2020. Alcoa’s Fjarðaál smelter in Fjarðabyggð, Iceland, emitted less than a fortieth of the recently-closed Intalco smelter.
While only 1.5% of global aluminium smelting takes place in the USA, efforts to cut emissions have stalled. At the same time the world’s cleanest smelters have slashed their emissions of the gas to almost zero. Nadia Steinzor, policy and research consultant with the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington DC, says the US’s old plants shouldn’t be allowed to be huge polluters ‘just because they’re old’. She says if there are fixes, the USA must adopt them.
Coal mine fibs in Cumbria
A spokesman involved in the scandalous opening of a new coal mine in Cumbria has been caught telling a big fib in a Radio 4 interview. He claimed the coking coal that’ll be mined there is essential for steel plants in the UK – but everyone knows there are much cleaner ways to make steel these days without resorting to coking coal. One is clean, renewable hydrogen, which was proposed back in 2021 as a viable alternative. In fact replacing coking coal with hydrogen to produce primary steel – and using electricity to produce recycled steel – is something the steel sector itself admits is the future.
Alupro has good news about aluminium recycling
The UK’s aluminium packaging recycling rate is on track to beat its 2022 target, according to the sector’s trade body Alupro. The Environment Agency says 37,815 tonnes of aluminium packaging have been collected for recycling so far via kerbside collections and ‘on-the-go’ systems, with another 9,491 tonnes recovered from incinerator bottom ash. An extra 322 tonnes arrived for recycling via ‘other routes’. The target will probably be exceeded by the end of the year.
Rusal warns of ‘significant systemic effects’ on EU manufacturing
Rusal is the world’s second largest aluminium company by primary output. It’s also Russian. Rusal is connected with the billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who also owns the Aughinish Alumina chemical plant on the Shannon estuary in Ireland. It makes almost a third of western Europe’s alumina. In total Rusal makes almost 9% of the world’s primary aluminium plus 9% of its alumina. Now their chief executive has warned that boycotting Rusal will result in ‘significant systemic effects’ on EU manufacturing.
British Steel in deep trouble again
Grant Shapps, the Conservative business secretary, has held more talks with the Chinese owner of British Steel as redundancies loom. The Jingye Group has asked for government support to help decarbonise the country’s second-biggest steel producer. They want around £500m of taxpayers’ money to keep the furnaces going at the Scunthorpe facility, which is already facing the closure of one of its two blast furnaces. If it closes, it would put 2000 or more people out of work. Jingye has agreed to not slash any jobs at British Steel during the discussions.
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