Aluminium has a life cycle that few other metals can match. It is corrosion resistant and can be recycled over and over again, requiring just a fraction of the energy used to produce the primary metal.
This makes aluminium an excellent material – reshaped and repurposed to meet the needs and challenges of different times and products.
Aluminium value chain
1. Bauxite mining
Aluminium production starts with the raw material bauxite, which contains 15-25% aluminium and is mostly found in a belt around the equator. There are around 29 billion tonnes of known reserves of bauxite and at the current rate of extraction, these reserves will last us more than 100 years. There are, however, vast undiscovered resources that may extend that to 250-340 years.
2. Alumina refining
Using the Bayer process, alumina (aluminium oxide) is extracted from bauxite in a refinery. The alumina is then used to produce the primary metal at a ratio of 2:1 (2 tonnes of alumina = 1 tonne of aluminium).
3. Primary aluminium production
The aluminium atom in alumina is bonded to oxygen and needs to be broken by electrolysis to produce aluminium metal. This is done in large production lines and is an energy-intensive process requiring a lot of electricity. Using renewable power and continuously improving our production methods is an important means to meet our goal of being carbon neutral in a lifecycle perspective by 2020.
4. Aluminium fabrication
Hydro supplies the market with over 3 million tonnes of aluminium casthouse products annually, making us a leading supplier of extrusion ingot, sheet ingot, foundry alloys and high-purity aluminium with a global presence. The most common uses of primary aluminium are extruding, rolling and casting:
4.1 Aluminium extruding
Extrusion allows for shaping aluminium into almost any form imaginable using ready-made or tailored profiles.
4.2 Aluminium rolling
The aluminium foil you use in your kitchen is a good example of a rolled aluminium product. Given its extreme malleability, aluminium can be rolled from 60 cm to 2 mm and further processed into foil as thin as 0.006 mm and still be completely impermeable to light, aroma and taste.
4.3 Aluminium casting
Creating an alloy with another metal changes the properties of aluminium, adding strength, brilliance and/or ductility. Our casthouse products, such as extrusion ingots, sheet ingots, foundry alloys, wire rods and high purity aluminium, are used in automotive, transport, buildings, heat transfer, electronics and aviation.
Recycling aluminium uses just 5% of the energy required for producing primary metal. Also, aluminium doesn’t deteriorate from recycling and about 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in use. Our goal is to grow faster than the market in recycling and take a leading position in the recycling part of the aluminium value chain, recovering 1 million tonnes of contaminated and post-consumer scrap aluminium annually.
The eternal life of aluminium
Pre-consumer scrap is typically scrap that comes from the production process and has never been used before it is remelted again.
Post-consumer scrap is aluminium that has already lived a “life” – maybe in a window frame or a can – and has now been recycled to be turned into something new. The most CO2-efficient recycled aluminium products are the ones made from post-consumer scrap.