Aluminium Life Cycle
Due to the impressive recycling capability of aluminium (75% of all aluminium ever made is still in use to this day) the product life cycle of the metal is particularly green. Though the cycle begins with extraction in raw mineral form, a few stages down the line and the product forms an ongoing loop. As aluminium can be reprocessed indefinitely without any loss in quality to the material.
This sustainable aspect of the aluminium life cycle is part of the reason that our partner’s, JD (UK), Alutech sectional garage doors have been declared an environmental product by the IFT Rosenheim institute. The full sectional door range has been declared an environmental product based on the product’s life cycle assessment. The assessment evaluates material and energy flows for the calculation and subsequent representation of environmental impacts. A great appeal of aluminium is that it lives on, it can be recycled endlessly back into either the same or other aluminium products, resulting in minimal environmental impact. The diagram of the aluminium life cycle shows how aluminium is conserved and repurposed.
Aluminium production begins with the mining of bauxite, which contains 15-25% aluminium. It is found in surface deposits in mainly tropical regions in the belt around the equator. There are around 29 billion tonnes of known reserves of bauxite. At the current extraction rate, these reserves are expected to last us more than 100 years.
Aluminium oxide (alumina) is then extracted from the mined bauxite. This is refined via a chemical process which purifies the bauxite to produce aluminium oxide, a white powder from which the aluminium can be extracted.
The primary metal is then produced by electrolysis, using the Hall-Hérouit process, whereby Alumina is smelted into aluminium. Three different raw materials are, hence, needed to make aluminium – aluminium oxide, electricity and carbon.
The material is then cast into ingots or alloys, which can be easily reformed into various aluminium products. Aluminium castings are formed by pouring molten metal into moulds which have been shaped to fit a desired final product.
Cast ingots may then be moved to a rolling mill where they are rolled out into sheets of aluminium, mainly used to produce new packaging. Due to its extreme malleability, aluminium can be rolled from 60 cm to 2 mm and further processed into foil as thin as 0.006 mm. Alutech Incorporated currently hold a production capacity of over 150 million running meters of roll formed profiles per year.
Manufacturers utilise rolled aluminium, aluminium alloys or ingots which can be re-melted again and made into completely different products such as beverage cans, car parts, profile systems, packaging etc. Aluminium is lightweight, corrosion-resistant, and very easy to manufacture into just about any shape imaginable, making it the second most common metal used in the world.
Alutech have one of the largest facilities in the world for the production of extended aluminium profiles – expanding through the complete manufacturing cycle. From melting primary aluminium, transferring to aluminium dies, painting or anodizing to the required finish.
Finished aluminium products are now ready and available for consumption and end-use. The main outlets for aluminium products are in transport , building and construction, packing, and engineering. For some recycled aluminium products, it can take as little as 6 weeks to manufacture, sell, recycle and remanufacture again.
Aluminium is collected along with other metals from recycling bins, banks and organisations. Used beverage cans are the most recognised recyclable aluminium material but many aluminium products, from car parts to window frames and even electronics, can be recycled at the end of the product’s life.
This isn’t all from curb collection either, business recycling rates surpassed targets last year, reaching 63%, compared to 60% in 2018.
The collected recycling is taken to a special processing plant where it is sorted using magnets, with the remaining aluminium items compressed into bales. Aluminium waste is then cut and shredded into tiny pieces.
Reducing the metal’s volume facilitates the removal of additional coatings (prior to chemical cleaning) and helps it to melt quicker in the reprocessing stage.
The scrap metal is heated up to 750°C to produce molten aluminium which is then treated to make new raw materials. Depending on the final converted product, the molten aluminium may be cast into ingots or rods, formed into large slabs for rolling, or atomised into powder for further processing.
With its superior strength, durability and flexibility there’s no reason not to use aluminium for your fabrication needs. For more information on what Alutech systems can do for you, email email@example.com or call one of our friendly sales representatives on 01924 350110.
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