|Aluminium: the material of the future
Aluminium is an incredibly versatile material, preferred by builders and designers alike for its strength, durability, flexibility, lightness and corrosion-resistance. It can also be adapted to many different architectural styles due to modern powder coating technology offering plain colour and decorative finishes, such as DecoWood timber-look aluminium.
Recent studies into the sustainability of aluminium have rigorously investigated its life cycle, recyclability, greenhouse gas emissions, responsible mining practices and its relative impact on the environment in architectural products compared to timber and PVC. The studies have demonstrated that aluminium is environmentally sound and the aluminium industry is heading in the right direction in managing its eco-footprint. In 2008, a survey found that 99% of plants internationally had Environmental, Health and Safety Management Systems in place, and 97% had achieved ISO14000 certification, the standard that guides and manages the assessment of voluntary Environmental Management Systems.
Aluminium Production and Recycling Processes
Life Cycle and Recycling
Aluminium is a highly durable and non-corrosive material, ensuring a long lifespan in any application including building products.
Approximately 75 per cent of all aluminium ever produced is still being used in some form, having been through countless loops of its life cycle. The aluminium industry has in recent years committed itself to closing the material loop to ensure a renewable cradle to cradle life cycle in which most used aluminium is recycled for reuse, eliminating the "grave" or landfilling stage.
A key feature of aluminium is that it can be recycled indefinitely with negligible losses of properties. Furthermore, the recycling process uses only 5 per cent of the energy required for primary production, potentially reducing the impact that the aluminium production process will have on the environment in future years. Since the year 2000, the production of aluminium from recycled products worldwide rose from 13 million to 15 million tonnes per year.
The high price of aluminium scrap ensures a solid collection rate, especially in the destruction and demolition of buildings. A survey into the collection rates of aluminium in demolished buildings in six European countries found that between 92 and 98 percent of the aluminium contained within the building was sent to recycling centres.
It is estimated that there are 400 million tonnes of aluminium contained in buildings globally that can be recycled for use by future generations, making aluminium a material for the future.
Recycling aluminium means lower energy requirements, less natural resources used, less land use from landfill, and less waste and pollution. Even residues from the recycling process, such as salt slag, filter dust and skimmings, are recycled for use in a variety of applications.
The global trend of dematerialisation means that we have greater capabilities of producing the same products using less and less material. Despite this and the increase in recycling as stated above, bauxite mining operations have responded to the demand to mine more responsibly by reducing their ecological footprint.
Land Usage and Rehabilitation
Between 2002 and 2006, the average annual bauxite mining land area rehabilitated was equal to the average annual area being opened up, and as such is considered "land area footprint neutral". Furthermore, there are plans to rehabilitate more than 90 per cent of the total area that was used for bauxite mining and infrastructure since operations commenced almost 70 years ago.
In accordance with the Environmental Management Systems utilised by mines and in line with International Standards, bauxite mining operations aim to either restore land used to its pre-mining state using native flora and fauna, or alternatively any other land-use that benefits the local community.
In 2002, approximately 83 per cent of the total mined area was rehabilitated, of which 80 per cent returned to native forests, 10 per cent to tropical forests, 4 per cent to commercial forests, 2 per cent to native pasture and the remaining 4 per cent predominantly for urban and industrial development, housing and recreation.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Energy Usage
The aluminium industry regularly publishes reports on its performance against 13 sustainability indicators, as well as a complete life cycle inventory. Overall, the industry saw a 14% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions produced from the processing of primary aluminium between 2000 and 2005 despite a 20% increase in production.
In 2007, the industry saw an 56 per cent reduction in perfluorocarbon emissions per tonne of primary aluminium produced compared with 2000 levels. Looking forward, the industry aims to reduce emissions by a further 50 per cent by 2020.
Hydropower has always been and continues to be the most importance source of electrical energy for the aluminium smelting process, the process that requires the most amount of energy in the primary production of aluminium. The increased use of hydropower in the electricity mix has resulted in a decrease from 12 to 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions for every tonne of aluminium produced since 2000.
The steady increase in aluminium recycling has and will continue to save energy and minimise greenhouse gas emissions due to the lesser amount of energy required to recycle aluminium compared to primary production.
Decorative Imaging Commitment to the Environment
Decorative Imaging does not overlook its own daily operations as an integral component of its pledge of sustainability. On a regular basis we put ourselves under the microscope and amend our practices to reflect our commitment to the environment. Below is a list of some of the key practices we have adopted recently:
• We use recycled packaging to wrap our orders for dispatch
• Our factory now runs on natural gas
• We drive hybrid and low emission cars
• Our office only uses recycled paper, with the aim of becoming a paperless office in the foreseeable future
• We recycle waste materials created in the office and factory
Boin, U 2004, Collection of Aluminium From Buildings in Europe, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
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Davidson, A and Muneer, T 2002, Life Cycle of Window Materials - A Comparative Assessment, Napier University, Edinburgh UK
European Aluminium Association, Date Unknown, Sustainability and Life Cycle Assessment, http://www.alueurope.eu/?page_id=162, viewed 12 December, 2011
European Aluminium Association, Date Unknown, Aluminium Recycling in Europe: The Road to High Quality Products, http://greenbuilding.world-aluminium.org/uploads/media/European_Recycling_Brochure.pdf, viewed November 1, 2011
International Aluminium Institute, Date Unknown, Green Building World Aluminium, http://greenbuilding.world-aluminium.org, viewed November 1, 2011
Construction Matters, Date Unknown, Sustainable Window Alliance release new findings - glass critical to energy efficiency, http://constructionmattersmagazine.com.au/NewsArchivedDetail.aspx?id=83, viewed November 15, 2011