Research into energy conservation in the aluminium industry

Two company-based factors – support from management and owners, and having a long-term energy strategy – are high on the wishlist of the aluminium industry, as it moves to reduce energy consumption. LiU researchers have investigated barriers and drivers.

Maria Johansson och Joakim Haraldsson, Energisystem, IEI, Linköpings universitet Maria Johansson and Joakim Haraldsson, senior lecturer and doctoral student, Energy Systems. Magnus Johansson

Aluminium is light, strong, conducts both heat and electricity, can be easily worked, can be recycled, and is widely available. It requires, however, considerable energy to refine it from its principle source: bauxite. The aluminium industry itself has long worked to reduce energy use and increase energy efficiency, and since 2013 has reduced its use by approximately 200 GWh/year. This corresponds to the electricity use of a small Swedish town (approximately 20,000 inhabitants).
The industry aims to become climate-neutral sometime between 2030 and 2050. The industry organisation, Svenskt Aluminium, has carried out projects within energy efficiency in which researchers from the Division of Energy Systems at Linköping University have participated, and some projects are currently under way.

Five big companies and many foundries

One study, which has been published in the scientific journal Sustainability, describes how doctoral student Joakim Haraldsson and senior lecturer Maria Johansson, both from the Division of Energy Systems, have examined the barriers and drivers of improved energy efficiency within the aluminium industry.

“We saw that some measures that appear in theory to be cost-effective were not being implemented, and we wanted to find out why”, says Joakim Haraldsson.

They sent questionnaires to the five companies in the Swedish aluminium industry and to a large number of foundries casting aluminium, and collected information not only about the barriers but also about the drivers that could overcome the barriers. They also asked what the most important sources of information on energy efficiency are within the industry.

Competition within the industry is tough, and the researchers discovered that the most important barriers are technical and economic. One example of an important barrier is the risk of interruption in production, and the costs associated with this. The companies also see risks linked to production capacity and product quality, and that changes in work routines may affect the capacity and performance of the equipment.

Photo credit Gränges AluminiumDrivers differ somewhat between the aluminium industry and foundries. The aluminium industry considers organisational driving forces to be important – that long-term energy strategies are in place that have the full support of the top management. The industry also wants to see unambiguous requirements from the owners. Foundries, in contrast, consider economic drivers to be most important, such as reduced energy costs, a better work environment, and reduced problems arising from the high cost of power during certain periods of the day.

Ways forward

When seeking information, greatest trust is placed in capable colleagues from within the company, the company group, or the industry organisation. Long-term strategies at company level and increased internal knowledge are also seen as important.

The researchers have drawn some conclusions from the analysis, one of which is that energy labelling of production equipment, similar to the labelling used for household equipment, may be one way forward. A second conclusion is that energy auditing is an important tool.

The research is financed by the Swedish Energy Agency and is carried out in collaboration with the Swedish aluminium industry.

“One of the occasions on which we have presented the results was at ‘Aluminiumdagarna’, a professional symposium arranged by Svenskt Aluminium. Our results can also be seen as recommendations to politicians and decision-makers”, says Joakim Haraldsson.

Haraldsson, J. & Johansson, M. T. 2019. Barriers to and drivers for improved energy efficiency in the Swedish aluminium industry and aluminium casting foundries. Sustainability, 11(7). DOI: 10.3390/su11072043

Translated by George Farrants

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