The aluminum recycling market could grow by 200 million euros


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Circular economy: Of the 90,000 tonnes of aluminum consumed by the extrusion industry every year, one-third is recycled aluminum. The aim is to reach 50% by 2050.

The European Aluminium Association’s strategic plan for 2050 predicts that increased recycling of this material could generate around six billion euros in gains for the European economy, in addition to avoiding up to 39 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. Portugal wants to have a say in this area, and the President of the Portuguese Aluminium Association (APAL) estimates that the market could grow by 200 million euros.

The aluminum recycling market could grow by 200 million euros

To achieve this, he says, the scrap collection market needs to develop, so that the industry can reach a consumption level of 50% recycled aluminum. But aluminum consumption also needs to increase. The problem is that when it comes to choosing building materials, aluminum is not always taken into account because it is not perceived as a sustainable element. Or, if it is, the recycled aluminum found on the market is thought to be imported. In reality, guarantees Rui Abreu, Portugal has already implemented the full cycle of 100% recycled aluminum in the country and, as a result, “the industry wants to be called in when it comes to deciding on the sustainability of buildings”.

A sector that employs 4,000 people

Rui Abreu APAL
Rui Abreu APAL

APAL covers 90% of extrusion companies (which produce, for example, aluminum profiles for windows or other uses), a total of 53 companies employing around 4,000 workers. They generate annual sales of around 500 million euros and contribute, directly and indirectly, to 1% of the national gross domestic product.

In terms of consumption, Rui Abreu revealed that the extrusion industry consumes around 90,000 tonnes of aluminium per year, of which around 30% is recycled aluminium. The aim is to reach 50% by 2050.

“There’s no limit to recycling; aluminum can be recycled ad infinitum and for the same purpose. Unlike the wood used in a window which, at the end of its life, can be recycled but will not become a window again, aluminum can be reintroduced into the manufacturing process and become a window again,” he guarantees.

The reduction in carbon footprint is even greater. For every kilo of aluminum produced in Europe – in Iceland or Norway, using renewable energies – 6.7 kilos of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere, compared with the 20 kilos of emissions that the same production in China generates, because it is carried out using coal.

Considerable advantages in terms of emissions

In the case of production using recycling, explains Rui Abreu, emissions are half a kilogram for every kilogram of aluminium produced. A figure that could be further reduced when the industry can replace the natural gas it currently uses to melt aluminum with green hydrogen.

“Tests are already underway, in Spain for example, so when it’s possible to use green hydrogen on an industrial scale, we’ll already be prepared for it and be able to reduce the carbon footprint of recycled aluminum to zero,” he adds.

And there’s more and more aluminum in scrap to be recycled, not only because the scrap sector is increasingly moving towards metal separation and recovery as part of a circular economy, but also because the global economy itself is making increasing use of this material, and not just in construction. Electric mobility is contributing to this trend.

New uses in perspective

“Electric vehicles use much more aluminum than before, because it’s a material that makes them lighter, which means that, with smaller batteries, they can travel longer distances. This is an industry that will generate large volumes of aluminum for recycling,” he says.

Portugal has four aluminum smelters for extrusion, three in the north and one in the Lisbon region, with an installed production capacity of 50,000 tons a year. 40% of production is destined for export.

“All waste from the aluminum production process is already reintegrated today, in addition to the use of construction waste and waste from various industries. The only area lagging behind in Portugal is the collection system for cans in the food segment”, stresses the president of APAL.

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