6.3 Materials: Aluminum

Author: Neva Wang

ABSTRACT: Aluminum is a common metal that is used abundantly. It is highly recyclable; however, production of aluminum creates a lot of carbon emissions. Efforts need to be made in order to reduce the carbon footprint of aluminum, as well as depend less on it.

Image: Factory Aluminum by rualuminas from Pixabay


Aluminum is one of the most common metals on Earth, it comprises more than eight percent of the Earth’s crust (“What is Aluminium”, n.d.). Aluminum is found in an ore called Bauxite and is then refined, dissolved, and melted into pure aluminum. Aluminum is highly versatile because it is so lightweight, durable, corrosion-resistant, and conductive. This makes it perfect for use in multiple different industries, such as housewares, the automotive industry, and the airplane industry.

The process of producing aluminum from Bauxite uses up a lot of energy and creates very high carbon emissions. Mining for Bauxite disrupts natural ecosystems, and refining it uses up a lot of water and electricity, especially coal-powered electricity. However, aluminum is still considered a more sustainable metal compared to others because it is highly recyclable. In fact, almost 75% of all the aluminum ever produced is still in use today (All About Aluminum). Aluminum can be recycled indefinitely as long as it’s in its pure form. However, there is still the issue about what will happen when we run out of aluminum to mine or recycle.

Another big issue within the aluminum industry is its carbon footprint. One ton of aluminum produced is equal to 11.7 tons of carbon emissions (Grant, 2017). Overall, the aluminum industry is responsible for 1.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, which accounts for two percent of human-caused emissions globally (Van Heusden, Harry, & Puleo, 2020). The demand for aluminum is also estimated to grow by more than fifty percent by 2050 (Van Heusden, Harry, & Puleo, 2020). Efforts are currently being made by major aluminum-producing regions to reduce carbon emissions. China wants to reach peak emissions by 2030 and net-zero by 2060, the U.S. wants to reach net-zero by 2050, and Europe wants to reach net-zero by 2050. Even aluminum production companies are making an effort to become more sustainable. Alcoa, one of the largest aluminum producers based in the U.S., has created a more sustainable line of aluminum. One ton of their aluminum produced is equal to less than 2.5 tons of carbon emissions, which is much less than the average (Grant, 2017). However, there is still a long way to go in order to reduce carbon emissions produced by the aluminum industry.


Grant, J. (2017, August 31). Aluminum Production Leaves A Big Carbon Footprint, So Alcoa Is Adapting With Sustainable Products. 90.5 WESA. https://www.wesa.fm/development-transportation/2017-08-31/aluminum-production-leaves-a-big-carbon-footprint-so-alcoa-is-adapting-with-sustainable-products

Van Heusden, R., Harry, M., & Puleo, M. (2020, December 16). Why addressing the aluminum industry’s carbon footprint is key to climate action. Greenbiz. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/why-addressing-aluminum-industrys-carbon-footprint-key-climate-action

All About Aluminum. (n.d.) What is Aluminium. Retrieved from https://www.aluminiumleader.com/about_aluminium/what_is_aluminum/

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