Using innovative technologies, currently in early research phase, could reduce European aluminium production's energy consumption by 21% and its direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 66% by 2050, according to a new report from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC).

JRC scientists compiled data on existing aluminium production facilities and their production characteristics, as well as the best available and promising innovative production technologies – including dynamic AC magnetic fields, wetted drained cathodes, inert anodes or 'carbon capture and storage' (CCS).

The analysis shows that most of the energy efficiency gains and GHG emission reductions will come from technologies that are still in the early stages of research, such as inert anodes, which are at 'technology readiness level' (TRL) 4 or 5, or CCS, which is at an even lower level. Harnessing the potential of these innovative technologies will require an effective policy push to create the right conditions for their further development and commercialisation.

The current EU target for 2030 of reducing GHG emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels will help the long-term objective of emissions cut by 80-95% by 2050 in the context of necessary reductions by developed countries as a group.

The work carried out for this report supports the European Commission's 2015 Energy Union package which – among other – highlights the need for additional research priorities such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and inert anode technology (in the aluminium production process) to reach the 2050 climate objectives in a cost-effective way. The European aluminium industry has made substantial efforts to improve its performance in terms of energy efficiency and GHG emissions. However, to achieve the ambitious EU targets, further improvements are required.

JRC scientists compiled data on existing aluminium production facilities, their production characteristics as well as the best available and promising innovative production technologies. The latter involve the use of dynamic AC magnetic fields, wetted drained cathodes, inert anodes or carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The model used identifies cost-effective improvements in aluminium production at facility level and the impact of their implementation on energy consumption and GHG emissions, based on the condition that investments are recovered within five years and on the assumption that there are no barriers for the timely commercialisation of the identified technological solutions.

The analysis shows that most of the resulting reductions come from technologies that are in early stages of research (e.g. inert anodes that are in a technology readiness level (TRL) 4 or 5, or CCS at even lower level). Therefore, harnessing this potential requires effective policy push to create the right conditions to allow the further development and commercialisation of these innovative technologies.

May 10, 2016 Living photo: JRC Science Hub

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