Aluminium, the eco-friendly alternative to wood and PVC

Aluminium, the eco-friendly alternative to wood and PVC

Aluminium window profiles are generally comparable to wood and PVC. A great advantage of aluminium is its recyclability. There’s a reason why it’s considered an eco-friendly alternative to other materials.

Aluminium is based on bauxite, a mineral found in ample supply in the earth’s crust. The French geologist Pierre Berthier discovered it in the village of Les Baux (hence the name bauxite) in the Provence region of France in 1821. However, a Dane has the honour of having ‘invented’ aluminium. Christian Orstad was the first to produce aluminium, but he used an expensive chemical process. That was in 1825.

In 1888, the quest for a cheaper production method resulted in the Hall-Héroult process (electrolysis), named after Charles Hall and Paul Héroult. The new metal was originally referred to as alumen, alumine or alumium. IUPAC, the universally-recognized authority on chemical nomenclature and terminology, decided to call it ‘aluminium'. However, it is often still called aluminum in the US.

6700 tonnes of aluminium were produced worldwide in 1900. By now, over a hundred years later, that figure has risen to more than 35 million tonnes, according to the European Aluminium Association. The lightweight metal is used in all sorts of everyday objects. Toasters, ski poles, folding chairs, siding, train and metro cars, dustbins, and more: they all contain aluminium to some extent.

 

8% of the earth's crust

Although aluminium is used widely, there is no shortage. After oxygen and silicon, bauxite is the most abundant element in the earth's crust (8%). If we keep producing aluminium at the same rate, there will be enough bauxite for the next 1200 years. Mining it is not a problem either. It is simply dug from the surface. However, scientists have been critical of aluminium for some time, claiming that the primary production is too energy-intensive. This statement is easily refuted by looking at the other end of the process.

 

100% recyclable

Aluminium is fully recyclable and can simply be remelted – without any loss of quality. This requires only 5% of the energy required for the primary production process. That makes it a lot more eco-friendly and cheaper. It is not surprising that recycling, also known as secondary production, has been the focus since the late 1960s – which was also when beverage cans became very popular. This has led to these remarkable figures:

  • Brazil is the world leader, recycling 98.2% of the beverage cans used in that country;
  • up to 95% of the aluminium in the construction and transport sector in Western Europe is reused;
  • almost as much secondary as primary aluminium is produced today;
  • 75% of all aluminium that was ever produced is still being used.

 

Solid figures. There’s more good news, too. Aluminium has another benefit: it can often serve as a lightweight alternative to other materials, and is at least as strong or stronger. Because aluminium is so much lighter, it saves fuel and other materials, thus contributing to a healthier environment. An example: the use of aluminium parts makes a car 100 kg lighter. Scientists say this lower weight results in 0.35 l / 100 km in fuel savings and a reduction of 9 g/km in CO2 emissions.

 

Enough to last for centuries

Thanks to recycling, the world’s supply of aluminium will not be exhausted within the next 1200 years. On the contrary, there is enough aluminium to last a long, long time. Aluminium profiles will be used for many generations to come.

 

  • Peter De Roovere