Wind-powered aluminium, anti-covid steel, recycling triumph
It has been an exciting few weeks in our industry, with all sorts of innovations being announced. Anti-covid steel is about to become a thing. Australia hopes to power one of its biggest aluminium plants using a new 1000MW wind farm. We report on potential trouble ahead for aluminium, with demand rising and supplies uncertain. And soaring electricity prices are affecting the British steel sector’s ability to go green. Here’s the news, fresh from the wonderful world of your trusted UK metal suppliers.
Offshore wind farm could power Australia’s Portland smelter
The Australian power company Alinta Energy wants to build a vast offshore wind farm off Victoria, designed to help the Alcoa Portland aluminium smelter wean itself off fossil fuels. So far, this being the early stages, a 500 sq km section of ocean roughly 10 miles from the shore is being considered for the project, which is being called ‘Spinifex’.
The cost is estimates at $4bn. The farm would connect to the grid through the smelter, which would make it 100% renewable as far as energy goes. The earmarked area is said to be an excellent source of wind, and it looks like the work could kick off in 2022.
At the same time the Sydney-based ABx Group’s chemical refiner Alcore has begun building a pilot plant to explore the potential for making the precursor chemicals used to recover fluorine from the aluminium smelter waste called ‘excess bath’. It could eventually recycle leftover bath into high-value products like aluminium fluoride, as well as reducing Australian firms’ reliance on imports.
Aluminium packaging recycling rate breaks records
It looks like the recycling rate for aluminium packaging will exceed the 2021 target, or so says the industry body Alupro. Numbers from the Environment Agency reveal 39,974 tonnes of aluminium packaging were collected for recycling, 15% more than the same period last year. For January-September, 121,277 tonnes were collected for recycling, 9% more than 2020. And we still have the busy festive season to go. Well done, aluminium sector!
Concerns grow over future aluminium supply and price
Aluminium prices are likely to increase in 2022 thanks to strong demand and worries over supply. The blame is being laid at the feet of the power crisis that affected production in China, India and elsewhere. China runs the world’s biggest aluminium industry, but it’s becoming more dependent than ever on imported supplies of ore.
At the same time the Brazilian aluminium market is expected to grow more moderately in 2022 than it did in 2021, when consumption soared to the highest levels in 10 years.
UVC light at certain wavelengths kills covid, Ebola, SARS, MERS and more in minutes, used to disinfect healthcare settings for decades. Now there’s a new covid-killing kid on the block in the form of anti-covid steel. It’s being developed in Hong Kong and it could be on the market within six months.
The new material contains more than 10% copper, which means it can inactivate 99.75% of covid cells within three hours. Give it six hours and the percentage hits 99.9%. The new alloy will be used to make products like lift buttons, door knobs and hand rails, reducing the risk of infection from their smooth metal surfaces where virus cells can otherwise live for as long as three days.
As Professor Huang Mingxin, from the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Hong Kong said, “Even if you make a very big scratch, it still has the capability to kill the virus because the copper particles are always inside. This is the best thing, compared to other coating technologies which can be scratched off.”
Steel sector’s carbon-cutting plans hampered by soaring power costs
Steelmakers are doing everything they can to cut carbon emissions but their efforts are being stymied by sky-high electricity prices. It’s a perfect storm. Greener methods take more electricity, and massive electricity bills mean there’s less cash to fund CO2-reducing technologies. The study’s authors hope to pressure the government to lower electricity prices, giving businesses the money they need to innovate and develop cleaner production. There are more advantages. Lower electricity prices would inspire more companies to drop fossil fuels in favour of electricity, and lower prices will persuade more countries to buy British steel.
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