Aluminium sustainability within the building industry

Justin Ratcliffe, chief executive at the Council for Aluminium in Building (CAB), reviews issues surrounding aluminium recycling and sustainability and highlights a number of projects undertaken by CAB and other leading International organisations who CAB partner with, including the International Aluminium Institute (IAI) and the European Aluminium Association (EAA)

Aluminium for future generations (AFFG)

The global nature of the aluminium value chain means that fostering sustainability within the aluminium industry and its products requires international collaboration. The key organisations involved in the work include the Council for Aluminium in Building (CAB), the European Aluminium Association (EAA) and the International Aluminium Institute (IAI). In order to manage environmental impacts, there is a need to measure and report them accurately. Hence the IAI produces an annual global sustainability report and five-yearly life cycle inventory report, detailing latest performance data. At the regional level, the EAA has produced its latest Environmental Profile Report: www.alueurope.eu/wpcontent/uploads/2011/08/EAA_Environmental_profile_report-May081.pdf which presents the development of robust European Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) datasets for the production of primary and recycled aluminium ingots and for the transformation of aluminium ingots into semi-finished products, i.e. sheet, foil and extruded products. Further development of global and European LCI data for aluminium and their use in accessible and transparent Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) modelling is a priority for this sector.

Aluminium’s generic environmental profiles were updated in the BRE Green Guide online on 8 August 2012. For the first time since the introduction of the Green Guide, aluminium powder coated windows can now achieve the following ratings:

• ‘A+’ Rating (for all commercial windows < 0.9kg/m)
• ‘A’ Rating (for all commercial windows < 1.5kg/m)
• ‘A’ Rating (for all domestic windows < 1.08kg/m)
• ‘B’ Rating (for all domestic windows >1.08kg/m)

The aluminium industry, through the IAI in conjunction with leading associations, including CAB, has established a number of sustainability objectives (including energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction), summarised in the table below:

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 12.27.33Progress relating to the objectives is reported annually by the global industry, including China (which represents over 40 per cent of aluminium production), and is disseminated widely.

Almost 1 billion tonnes of aluminium have been produced since 1888. Around 75 per cent of all aluminium produced since then is still in productive use as a result of high recycling rates (between 92 and 98 per cent for architectural aluminium; see http://greenbuilding.world-aluminium.org) and the long lifetime of aluminium products, particularly in the building and construction sector. Recycling aluminium requires only 5 per cent of the energy needed to produce aluminium from bauxite, which means it has a high value as a recyclate. This high value should ensure that similarly high recycling rates are maintained in the future.

Durability and service life of windows

CAB has sponsored two case studies on Aluminium and Durability by the Department of Architecture & Built Environment at Nottingham University in order to better understand and quantify aluminium’s life expectancy in buildings. The work with the university also included sponsorship of the Prototyping Architecture exhibition at the Building Centre, London during Q1, 2013. CAB continues to highlight aluminium’s longevity; for example, over 200 windows installed 73 years ago in the New University Library at Oxford University: www.c-a-b.org.uk/why-aluminium/aluminium-longevity

Responsible sourcing scheme for aluminium

The Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI), launched in 2012, has been spearheaded by several industry players with the support of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). ASI’s first goal is to develop the ASI Standard to foster responsible resource management of aluminium through the entire value chain. The standard will define principles and performance criteria in the area of governance, environmental and social practices. It will be applicable for all stages of aluminium production and transformation, specifically bauxite mining, alumina refinery, primary aluminium production, semi fabrication (rolling, extrusion, forging, and foundry) as well as refining and remelting of recycled scrap. It will also include a chain of custody mechanism to allow a coherent and integrated linkage of information between the different stages of the value chain. It is forecast that the standard will be developed by the end of 2014; see www.aluminium-stewardship.org