audi a8 frame
Attention to recycling will help keep the aluminum industry active in the auto sector, says European Aluminium.
Image courtesy of Audi and European Aluminum

Aluminum producers see EV opportunities

European Aluminium association includes circularity as a crucial factor in vehicle market success.

August 3, 2022

The Brussels-based European Aluminium organization is referring to aluminum as “the base metal for the green transition” as it prepares its member companies to take part in electric vehicle (EV) and alternative energy markets.

“The European aluminum industry offers one of the most fundamental materials for achieving climate and circularity goals and provides our continent with enhanced strategic autonomy thanks to a resilient European value chain,” the organization states in a “manifesto” it released this July.

While the group says the aluminum industry “is poised to serve Europe’s sustainability and industrial leadership ambitions,” it also expresses concern about “international competition.”

Regarding the positioning of aluminum in the Green Deal and Circular Economy eras, European Aluminum is asking policymakers to consider “strategic autonomy” when formulating metals industry policies.

To some scrap recyclers and traders, this might sound like European Aluminium is advocating restrictions on global trade opportunities for aluminum scrap. The organization also raises concerns about imported aluminum that might have been made via high-carbon-emissions methods.

The association says a circular economy within Europe “will allow us to supply 50 percent of the aluminum demand through recycling by 2050, reducing CO2 emissions by an estimated 39 million metric tons or 46 percent of today’s emissions and strengthening Europe’s open strategic autonomy through material efficiency.”

European Aluminium plays up the sustainability advantages of the metal, stating in its manifesto, “Primary aluminum produced in Europe has a carbon footprint of only one-third of the Chinese average. Since the 1990s that footprint [in Europe] has decreased by more than 50 percent, while our recycled aluminum further boosts decarbonization and circularity with a 95 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy compared to primary production.”

The organization expresses confidence in the future demand for aluminum. “Aluminum is a key component for the technologies of tomorrow, from electric mobility, solar modules, wind turbines, electricity networks and battery storage to aerospace, satellites and energy-efficient buildings,” writes European Aluminium in its manifesto.

Alternative energy and projected EV market share growth are the leading factors European Aluminium cites. “Studies project that the EU’s energy transition will see aluminum demand rise by 4.5 million metric tons, or 30 percent, against current levels by 2040,” the group writes. “Europe’s domestic value chain has all it needs to supply the demand of the economy of the future.”

This year has witnessed aluminum production in Europe hit some snags because of energy supply restrictions tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions. This has been particularly noticeable in the more energy-intensive primary aluminum sector.

Regarding recycled-content aluminum, investments in Europe this year include one by Norway-based Hydro in a German facility expansion; the acquisition of a Belgian recycled-content aluminum mill by an American equity fund; the installation of a new scrap-fed furnace by Alcoa in Norway; and an alloys capacity expansion project by Romco Group in the United Kingdom.

European Aluminium, per its manifesto, sees more such investments as likely if the EU continues down a path of alternative energy and EV market share growth—all while keeping an eye on decarbonization. “Europe has a choice,” says Ingrid Jörg, board chair of European Aluminium and an executive with France-based Constellium. “It can become increasingly dependent on carbon-intensive imports and unstable external suppliers to meet rising demand, or it can create the conditions for the European aluminum industry to deliver on its promise of a carbon-neutral, circular and strategically autonomous sector.”