Revolutionary Aluminum Process Eliminates Emissions, Produces Oxygen
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on May 28, 2018 |
Alcoa and Rio Tinto team to pioneer carbon-free aluminum production.

The automotive, construction, consumer goods and transportation industries have at least one major element in common: aluminum. Due to its strength, durability and workability, aluminum is an ideal metal for a multitude of uses and can be found in aircraft, automobiles, electrical wiring, bridges, smartphones, flat-screen TVs and more.

While aluminum inherently has some environmental benefits since it is 100 percent recyclable, its production isn’t quite so clean. According to a Columbia University Climate Center study, traditional aluminum smelting processes account for 1 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions globally.

As an increasing number of companies seek ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, like using hydroelectricity instead of fossil fuels in production, it was only a matter of time before something truly new came along.

Alcoa Corporation and Rio Tinto, two of the world’s largest aluminum producers, recently announced a new process for creating aluminum that not only eliminates direct greenhouse gas emissions, but also produces oxygen. Alcoa discovered the new technology and has been testing it in Pittsburgh, Pa., since 2009. Alcoa’s joint effort with Rio Tinto resulted in the formation of a new company, Elysis, to allow for large-scale production trials using the new process with the goal of having it used throughout the aluminum production industry.

A new aluminum production process will result in no greenhouse gas emissions and produce oxygen. (Image courtesy of Elysis.)
A new aluminum production process will result in no greenhouse gas emissions and produce oxygen. (Image courtesy of Elysis.)
“This discovery has been long sought in the aluminum industry, and this announcement is the culmination of the work from many dedicated Alcoa employees,” said Alcoa President and CEO Roy Harvey. “Today, our history of innovation continues as we take aluminum’s sustainable advantage to a new level with the potential to improve the carbon footprint of a range of products from cars to consumer electronics.”

Traditional methods of aluminum production involve putting aluminum oxide into a high-temperate mixture of molten salt with carbon-rich anodes and electrifying it. During the chemical process, the large amount of carbon used burns off, resulting in the release of carbon dioxide.  

The Elysis method is not carbon based. Instead, an inert anode—non-carbon based—will be used during the smelting process that will produce pure oxygen instead of release carbon dioxide. According to the company, the new anode is also more durable and energy efficient. Additional potential benefits of the proprietary process include an increase in anode life expectancy by 30 times, a 15 percent decrease in operating costs and a 15 increase in productivity.

Interested in more innovative environmentally friendly solutions? Check out Natcore Works to Develop Method for Low-Cost, High-Efficiency Solar Cells and A Sweet Future for Renewable Plastics.

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