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Spotlight on Aluminium

On 2 June 2022, MECLA held the second Spotlight on Aluminium, a hybrid event kindly hosted by Lendlease in Barangaroo. The event focused on the aluminium and secondary aluminium sector, and the challenges and opportunities for the sector including support for local manufacturing and demonstrating demand for recycled aluminium. Out of the three primary materials that contribute to 70% of a building’s embodied carbon aluminium is the most emissions intensive per ton. The event was hosted by Jeff Morgan, Senior Associate at Hassell.


Jeff Morgan’s introduction to the Spotlight on Aluminium. Find the Aluminium playlist or click next video for more.

Key Takeaways

  • Coinciding with the event, MECLA Working Group on Aluminium released their Low Emissions Aluminium brochure
  • Australia is the largest bauxite producer and exporter in the world. Australia is the second largest alumina producer. 85% of locally produced alumina is exported; only 15% is locally smelted
  • The four aluminium smelters in Australia take up 10% of the national energy grid, leaving huge potential for decarbonisation through greening the grid
  • Recycled aluminium only takes 5% of the energy that virgin aluminium does, and it can be anodized
  • CEFC is driving decarbonisation in the economy through financial investment, following four pathways: investment in the grid, investment in sustainable economy, investment in biosequestration, and investment in the built environment
  • As of today, 244 financial institutions representing 66 trillion USD are signed up to the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF), aiming to develop the global GHG accounting and reporting standard for the financial industry and increase the number of institutions that use the standard and disclose financed emissions. 
  • Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a crucial way to reduce embodied carbon. In order to be maximally efficient, LCA must occur at every phase in the project including pre-design
  • Capral recently announced a partnership with Tomago to supply 550 tonnes of production scrap annually for remelting. This industry arrangement is the first of its kind in Australia and will pave the way toward access to low carbon aluminium for Australian manufacturers
  • Sims Limited is committed to reaching net zero for scope 1 & 2 emissions by 2030 and absolute net zero by 2050. Sims collects scrap, processes it and then sells it on
  • Challenges with processing scrap aluminium include complications based on the alloy amongst others. Pre-life remelt is easier because once it has lived other unidentified materials may be in the mix making the remelt process more complex
  • There is currently no treatment for flock, a product that comes off of building demolition piles. Sims is working on converting flock into hydrogen gas for energy

If you missed the session, read a summary of what was discussed below:

The sun set over Lendlease HQ in Barangaroo as presenters took to the stage for MECLA’s second Spotlight on Aluminium. Jeff Morgan, Senior Associate at Hassell, hosted the event and began by providing some background and the state of play on the aluminium industry. 

Jeff’s own adventures in aluminium began 12 years ago when he was involved in the first use of recycled aluminium for structural facade extrusions. Jeff later joined the MECLA Working Group on aluminium (Working Group 5c), where he is collaborating with architects, LCA specialists, miners, smelters, head contractors, engineers and financers across the aluminium supply chain . Together everyone has been working to reduce the embodied carbon in aluminium, and the Working Group is proud to announce their first resource, a Low Emissions Aluminium brochure outlining the industry, as well as challenges and opportunities in decarbonising the sector. 

Aluminium is created by extracting bauxite from the earth, which will be refined into alumina and then smelted into aluminium. Australia is the world’s largest bauxite producer, largest alumina exporter, second largest alumina producer, and sixth largest aluminium producer. Compared to other primary materials used in construction, such as concrete and steel, it is by far the most carbon intensive per ton. For each ton of aluminium produced approximately 14-20 tons of CO2e~ is released into the atmosphere. 

Challenges to creating low carbon aluminium include the immense amount of energy used in production. In Australia, there are four smelters which consume roughly 10% of our national energy grid – mostly coal power. Also, many Australian facades are procured from South-East Asia and China, which further complicates the supply chain and heightens the embodied carbon in the product. Finally, the conversation on aluminium is just beginning and construction needs to catch up to advancements made in the steel and cement industries. 

There are also many opportunities for aluminium. Producing recycled aluminium uses only 5% of the energy needed to produce virgin aluminium. Certified recycled aluminium alloys are identical to their virgin counterparts and they can be anodized. 75% of all aluminium produced to date is still in use, and producers are already making low carbon aluminium around the world. The question for us is: How can we integrate low carbon aluminium into our contemporary Australian construction context?

Sebastian Loewensteijn

Sebastian Loewensteijn, Associate Director – Sustainability at the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), spoke about decarbonising the economy through financial investment. The CEFC’s unique mission is to accelerate investment in Australia’s transition to net zero emissions. The four key pathways are: the grid and renewable energy, built environment, sustainable economy, and biosequestration, recycling and soil carbon. 

CEFC invests with an aim to achieve emission reductions, market impact and financial outcomes. They aim to raise private capital to invest alongside and get risk-adjusted returns and Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), leading to a better view of climate risk and net zero.  TCFD provides harmonised guidelines on how to evaluate climate risk for financial investments. In November 2021, CEFC launched an industry report on opportunities for cutting embodied carbon with the GBCA. 

As of today, 244 financial institutions representing 66 trillion USD are signed up to the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF), aiming to develop a global GHG accounting and reporting standard for the financial industry and increasing the number of institutions that use the standard and disclose financed emissions. 

Ceire Kenny

Ceire Kenny, Sustainable Futures Consultant – Sustainability at Lendlease, presented a case study run by Lendlease on low carbon aluminium. Lendlease is committed to net zero by 2025 and absolute zero carbon by 2040 for scope 1, 2 & 3 emissions. Ceire advocates for a new way to treat sustainability and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), across all projects instead of focusing on pockets of excellence. 

LCA is the complete measure of the life of a building, from raw material extraction to end of life. This makes LCA a good measure of embodied carbon. The power lies in leveraging it at key decision making points. LCA is done iteratively as decisions are being made throughout the project and helps inform major decisions. 

Aluminium makes up on average 13% of a building’s materials, which makes it the third most used material in buildings. The majority of the aluminium is in the facade, and this is responsible for the majority of the emissions in the facade, which comes from the heat needed to smelt it. 

Ceire outlined the One Sydney Harbour case study, which is the third and final tower as part of the triplet of luxury towers in Barangaroo. The Renzo Piano architectural design is targeting a 6 Star Green Star Design rating and has an expected completion of 2024. The building has an open cavity facade to achieve the architectural intent, stellar operational energy performance, and natural ventilation. 

Every building constructed by Lendlease in Barangaroo has a 20% carbon reduction target. Ceire and the Sustainable Futures team at Lendlease identified the facade as a large source of embodied carbon in the building. Reductions started with a hunt for low embodied carbon aluminium. The best products were either high in recycled content or using renewable electricity during smelting. During the market scan one of the most valuable resources for Ceire were Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). 

The Sustainable Futures team included the low embodied carbon aluminium in specifications for early tender conversations and asked for facade material data in returnable schedule during tender. Unfortunately, the product originally suggested was cost-and program-prohibitive, so they refined the questions to subcontractors to ask about sustainable tech instead of a specific product. After consultation the solution they arrived at was a preferential sourcing agreement for low embodied carbon aluminium in one of their existing suppliers’ smelters. Consequently, a 34% reduction in embodied carbon is now projected for the facade of the tower. 

Ceire outlined challenges including the complicated nature of facades, the new conversations with the supply chain, the lack of direct control over emissions, the change required to well trodden paths and the uncertainty that comes with this from a risk averse industry. A number of new benefits also emerged, such as new opportunities with existing suppliers through a new level of supplier engagement, implemented a bespoke measurement tool and developed specification language. 

Michael O’Keefe

Michael O’Keefe, General Manager – Technology and Marketing at Capral Aluminium, spoke on behalf of Capral, which operates a national network of distribution centres supported by 8 extrusion presses. Capral has an annual extrusion capacity of 65000t and roughly 26% of the market of aluminium products. 

Capral recently announced it is going to achieve net zero in scope 1 & 2 by 2050 and receives almost daily enquiries about the embodied carbon of their aluminium. Capral’s sustainability journey has three parts. Firstly, sourcing primary materials with low carbon. Secondly, reviewing their in-house activity and behaviour. Thirdly, reviewing their chain of custody to see what their up and down stream emissions are and engaging those stakeholders to reduce emissions. 

Capral recently announced a partnership with Tomago to supply 550 tonnes of production scrap annually for remelting. This industry arrangement is the first of its kind in Australia and will pave the way toward access to low carbon aluminium for Australian manufacturers. Currently, 95% of Australia’s scrap aluminium is exported, leaving enormous potential for local manufacturing of lowering embodied carbon. 

As Australia’s largest supplier of extruded aluminium, Capral recently joined the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI). ASI is a global initiative backed by an assurance scheme where companies such as Capral can deliver on sustainability commitments and transparency. The ASI certification process is an assurance process against two standards, the Chain of Custody standard and the Performance Standard. The Performance Standard defines ESG and the criteria that addresses sustainability issues. The Chain of Custody standard sets out requirements for the creation of a Chain of Custody for material that is produced and processed through the value chain into diverse downstream sectors variety for responsible procurement of aluminium and allows for the implementation of the mass balance system of implementation.

Blaise Porter

Blaise Porter, Group Director Sustainability & Social Responsibility at Sims Limited, was the final speaker on the night. Sims Limited is a world leading data and metals company that collects used metals and scrap for processing. They have a carbon neutral target for scope 1 & 2 emissions and net zero by 2050. 

Aluminium is different to steel in the reuse and recycling context. Different kinds of alloyed aluminium are used for different functions and this makes recycling less safe and more difficult. Pre-consumer scrap, the shavings and excess aluminium that does not have a life in a building before collected, is far easier to smelt than post-consumer scrap, which has already been used and may be a mix of different alloyed aluminium and contamination. 

When metal goes into the Sims yard, it goes through a metal shredder and afterwards you are left with three products: steel, flock and zorba. The steel is ready to go back to the smelter. Flock, the bits of cement, plastic and foam waste product, do not currently have a treatment. However, Sims is working on converting flock into hydrogen gas for energy, which would be a world first. Zorba is a mixed aluminium scrap. Depending on where the aluminium goes to be processed, it can be further separated to achieve as clean a stream as possible. 

Click to view the slides from the presentations below: