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Hydro colleague working the crane inside the technology pilot at Kamøy

CCS, innovative electrolysis, recycling: Why technology is an enabler for the much-needed green transition

The world must reduce its carbon emissions and the ‘hard to abate’ sectors need to set clear ambitions, detail a roadmap and act on it. Here is why I believe technology development is our greatest opportunity in reaching zero-emission production.

Photo of Hans Erik Vatne
Hans Erik Vatne, Chief Technology Officer

First, let me start off with the following: I work in aluminium, one of the ‘hard to abate’ sectors. 

Aluminium is a key enabler in the green transition, but production must become emission free. Because it takes a lot of energy to produce aluminium, it is very important to use energy sources that leave a small carbon footprint.  

It matters where and how aluminium is produced 

An aluminium plant that bases its electricity on coal, as is common in several regions of the world, has five times higher CO2 emissions than one that bases it on electricity from renewable sources.  

But even with renewable power, the road to zero-carbon emissions in aluminium production is a long one. Hydro has made great strides in the last three decades – cutting CO2 emissions per tonne by 70% at our fully owned Norwegian smelters. The next advancements will be driven by new technology and more recycling.  

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Because it takes a lot of energy to produce aluminium, it is very important to use renewable energy sources that leave a small carbon footprint. (Photo: Hydro)

3 roads to reaching zero-emission aluminium production with technology development 

So then, back to where I started. Technology is the answer, and I will tell you why. 

Hydro has launched a new climate ambition, confirming the target of cutting own carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 and announcing a new ambition to reach net zero in terms of Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier. 

To reach this ambition, Hydro is pursuing three technology pathways towards zero-carbon aluminium production. 

To secure the value of existing smelters, Hydro is developing carbon capture and storage (CCS) solutions that can be retrofitted into aluminium plants in operation. Hydro has evaluated more than 50 CCS technologies and developed plans for testing and piloting the most promising up to industrial scale. The most likely outcome will be a combination of off-gas capture and direct air capture to eliminate 100% of the emissions, with industrial-scale pilots planned before 2030. 

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Another pathway more suited for greenfield smelters is Hydro’s proprietary HalZero technology. This is a technology based on converting alumina to aluminium chloride prior to electrolysis in a process where chlorine and carbon are kept in closed loops, resulting in a fully decarbonized process. Hydro has been working on lab-scale development of this technology for five years and has now developed a concrete roadmap for piloting this to industrial scale before 2030. 

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A third and faster pathway to zero-carbon aluminium production is by recycling more post-consumer aluminium. Using 100% complex post-consumer scrap, we will be able to produce a near-zero carbon product at a competitive abatement cost already this year. This will be made possible by Hydro’s patented aluminium sorting technology and alloying expertise. To get from near-zero to zero emissions in recycling, we still have some way to go to decarbonize our operations. This requires new technology to replace natural gas with green hydrogen or electricity in the casthouse 

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Increasing demand for greener aluminium as customers decarbonize 

Luckily, the trend is that our customers demand more of our greener aluminium than just a few years ago.  

The transition to a lower-carbon society is expected to increase demand for aluminium. Over the coming decades, global demand for primary aluminium will increase by up to 40% and recycled aluminium from post-consumer scrap will more than triple through to 2050, as economies grow, according to the International Aluminium Institute. 

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The fastest way to deliver zero-carbon aluminium is by recycling post-consumer scrap. When recycled aluminium is made from used beverage cans, windows, or car parts, the material starts another life. Previously used aluminium is referred to as “post-consumer” scrap, and its carbon footprint is close to zero. (Photo: Getty / iStock)

Greener aluminium with a lower carbon footprint is seen as an important enabler for the green transition. Hydro’s customers across many sectors such as automotive, packaging, building and construction and electronics are setting ambitious decarbonization targets and low-carbon and circular aluminium is a key lever to reduce Scope 3 emissions for these industries.

A differentiation of the market is expected, where demand for greener and circular aluminium will outpace the demand for aluminium produced with non-renewable energy sources.    

EU has defined key areas to deliver on climate objectives and enable green transition 

More climate-friendly solutions will reduce emissions in society at large. Clean energy, more energy-efficient buildings, green mobility and longer-lasting products that can be recycled are all examples of areas that the EU has defined as key areas to deliver on climate objectives to enable the green transition. 

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The road to net-zero carbon emissions in aluminium production is a long one, but Hydro has made great strides in the last three decades – cutting CO2 by 70% at the Norwegian plants. Here from the electrolysis at the Hydro Sunndal aluminium plant. (Photo: Hydro/Halvor Molland)

All areas drive the need for more aluminium and more renewable energy, and in Hydro we are ready to contribute. In the use phase, aluminium contributes to reducing climate emissions from transport through lightweighting and increasing the range of electric cars and by making buildings more energy efficient. 

Sustainability is one of the most important drivers for consumer choices today. Hydro is developing new technology and products to ensure our customers receive what they need to meet their sustainability targets and customers’ expectations. 

It’s an expensive pathway, but we believe that EU and national authorities can make it happen with the right tools for incentivizing greener demand and protecting the competitiveness of European front runners.

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