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New green uses key to aluminum's future-IAI

The potential uses for aluminum in innovative green products is key to its future demand, the International Aluminum Institute (IAI) said on Wednesday.

“It’s not just a case of replacing one material with another, it’s more about the potential for innovation,” Ron Knapp, secretary general of the IAI told Reuters.

The IAI represents around three-quarters of the world’s aluminum producers and publishes closely-watched figures on primary aluminum output and producer inventories.

Aluminum production is energy-intensive, but its light weight, strength and conductivity mean the metal has many potential uses in energy-saving products, Knapp said. These, along with its recyclability help the carbon footprint of its products, he added.

The IAI estimates that 300 million tones of greenhouse gas emissions were saved through aluminum vehicle lightweighting alone in 2008, more than half of the emissions from the global aluminum industry itself.

In the construction industry applications in green buildings include use in solar panel frames and curtain walls.

More than 90 percent of aluminum used in building and construction is recovered when a building is demolished, Knapp said, with comparable rates in motor vehicles. Recycling takes five percent of the energy needed for primary production.

In industrializing countries, such as China and India there are opportunities for massive growth if they build green cities, using aluminum in every possible application.

“It takes some joined up thinking, but if you’re starting from scratch with green cities, using aluminum in power cables, for metros and green buildings, there’s potential for exponential growth,” said Chris Bayliss, Director of Global Projects and Deputy Secretary General for the IAI.

In established towns and cities it is more difficult for aluminum to replace copper in underground power cables, for example, because larger ducts are needed for the greater amount of metal required for the same performance.

There has also been innovation in smaller uses, such as aluminum screw caps on wine bottles.

“That’s been a very significant change, especially in new wine producing regions,” Knapp said. “It’s a question of functionality, you don’t have to find the corkscrew when you go for a picnic in the park.”

Global demand for aluminum products has grown by 6 to 8 percent a year in recent years and the IAI saw no reason for this to change.

China

The IAI also expected top producer China to remain an important influence on global aluminum output.

It expects Middle East and Indian output in particular to outperform North America and Western Europe, which is experiencing declines in primary output.

Strong growth in Indian output could lead the IAI to break out output figures for the country in years to come.

“The regional breakdowns are not immutable,” Knapp said.

Last year, the IAI began to report output for the Gulf region separately, reflecting strong expansion in output there.

Knapp said the IAI is there to help and advise its members and others in all manner of aspects of the industry.

“We’re looking at trying to strengthen all our reporting, particularly on environmental issues. Most probably we’ll report more on bauxite residues or opportunities for bauxite residue management,” said Knapp.

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