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Energy and the environment tops aluminium agenda

Next week the global aluminium industry will convene for the annual Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (TMS) conference in the USA. Hydro is making an active contribution by putting climate and energy challenges on the agenda.

The TMS conference, which this year is being held in New Orleans from March 9 to 13, is the aluminium industry’s annual meeting place, with more than 4,000 participants from about 65 different countries taking part each year.

No fewer than six speakers will represent Hydro this year. They include Torstein Dale Sjøtveit, executive vice president of Hydro's Aluminium Metal business area, and Hydro research scientist Halvor Kvande.

“We have to try to increase the efficiency of our energy usage, and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Energy and the environment are the two main challenges facing the aluminium industry, I’m convinced of that. In particular, we need to reduce emissions from greenhouse gases to reduce the negative impact of climate change,” says Kvande.

Hydro seminar

Kvande has been given the responsibility of organizing a seminar at the TMS conference which will be all about the challenges and opportunities that environment issues represent for the aluminium industry. The seminar will be held at Monday, March 10, and leading figures from Rio Tinto Alcan, Rusal and Alcoa feature among those speaking. In addition, Torstein Dale Sjøtveit will hold a 25-minute long speech. About 500 spectators are expected to show up for the sessions.

“I hope the seminar will help increase awareness of the problems related to energy and the environment. I also hope that it will be apparent after the seminar that the leaders of the major corporations are showing the way forward,” explains Kvande.

“Are you afraid that there will be a lot of talk, but little determination to translate the visions into action after the gathering?”

“No, I am convinced that there is a lot of action taking place now. The companies realize the gravity of this issue. For instance, Alcan states on its website that addressing the economic, social and environmental dimensions of climate change is directly related to the company’s global competitiveness and to safeguarding its long-term license to operate.”

New technology, new opportunities

On average, an aluminium plant emits about two kilograms of CO2 per kg aluminium produced. Then there are the emissions emanating from alumina and carbon anode production. Even more important are the emissions from generating the energy required to produce aluminium: at a modern gas-fired power plant works, this figure is about 7 kg of CO2 pr kg aluminium, while the corresponding number for a coal-fired power plant is about 14 kg of CO2.

“No doubt there is an enormous potential for protecting the environment when CO2 purification becomes possible one day,” says Kvande. He also believes there is much to gain by optimizing operational processes so that both the bottom line and the environment become winners.

“Energy production and the amount of emissions from these power plants are about proportional. If we save energy, we save money – at the same time as we save the environment,” adds Kvande.

New Hydro technology

During March, Hydro will start producing aluminium in six specially constructed test cells at the Research Center in Årdal, Norway. The cells build on the technology that Hydro calls its next generation cell technology.

Key properties of the cells include lower energy consumption, and their ability to concentrate CO2 from anode gas.

“I am very happy that Hydro is pursuing this new technology. There is a great need for research and development to achieve new solutions, and we can now see a completely different focus on the environment and greenhouse gas emissions than was the case previously," says Kvande.

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