Novelis Inc., Atlanta, has announced it will invest $2.5 billion to build a low-carbon recycling and rolling plant in Bay Minette, Alabama. Site work is underway now, and the company expects to begin commissioning it in mid-2025.
Novelis says the facility initially will have the capacity to produce 600,000 metric tons of finished aluminum goods annually.
According to a news release from Novelis, more than half the capacity of the new facility will be used to serve a growing demand for aluminum beverage can sheets in North America, which is driven by consumer preference for more sustainable packaging. In addition to the beverage can market, the facility will serve the automotive market.
"Through this investment, we are making a demonstrative commitment to continue to grow alongside our customers and meet their needs for low-carbon, highly sustainable aluminum solutions," says Steve Fisher, president and CEO of Novelis. "In addition, we are well-positioned to efficiently expand capacity at this facility in the future … to capture ongoing strong demand. Our readiness to invest to serve growing markets is a perfect example of how we are delivering on our company purpose of shaping a sustainable world together."
The company says the facility will be the first fully integrated aluminum mill built in the U.S. in 40 years. It is expected to create up to 1,000 high-paying, advanced careers in modern manufacturing. With this addition, Novelis says it will soon be able to recycle 90 billion cans globally, up from the 74 billion used beverage cans the company currently recycles.
Tom Boney, the president of Novelis North America, says the facility will serve the south and southeastern regions of the country. Some of the customers it will provide service to include Ford, General Motors, Coca-Cola and Ball Corp.
According to Novelis, the facility will have several environmental features and will aim to be net carbon neutral for Scope 1 and 2. It will be powered primarily by renewable energy, use recycled water and be a zero-waste facility. The facility also will rely on rail transportation, which can reduce logistics-related carbon emissions by up to 70 percent compared with road transport.
Additionally, Novelis says the plant will make use of advanced automation and digital technologies, including artificial intelligence. Augmented reality will be used to train employees, diagnose issues and ensure efficient operations
"This investment marks the start of another transformational growth phase for Novelis," says Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairperson of the Aditya Birla Group and the Novelis board of directors. "We continue to invest in each of the markets Novelis serves, from beverage can to automotive, aerospace and specialties and in all geographies."
Novelis says its decision to build a fully integrated, greenfield recycling and rolling plant was in response to strong North American demand for flat-rolled, low-carbon aluminum from can makers and beverage companies. According to the company’s fiscal year 2022 report, the increase in demand is partly because beverage brands are moving from plastic and glass to aluminum packaging. The report cites recyclability, ease of drink filling and shipping efficiency as some of the main reasons brands switch to aluminum cans. However, the company also has seen an increased demand for aluminum in the automotive industry.
"We've seen year-over-year growth of automotive demand for the last 42 years ... as more and more automotive companies adopt aluminum into their vehicles," Boney says. "Lightweighting continues to be a driver to make sure that the internal combustion engine vehicles are more fuel-efficient. But they're also taking advantage of those characteristics for the battery-electric vehicles. As the battery weight increases, they get better performance and better mileage out of the battery vehicles by adopting aluminum as well. "
Recently, Novelis broke ground on a $365 million investment in a highly advanced recycling center in Guthrie, Kentucky, that will be able to cast 240,000 tons of sheet ingot for its automotive customers per year. The facility is expected to reduce Novelis’ carbon emissions by more than 1 million tons annually.
Boney says Novelis North America plans to continue meeting consumer demand through various projects, though he declined to comment further.