Why decarbonising the aluminium industry is key to achieving the UAE's net-zero goal

EGA’s carbon emissions were 35% lower than the industry’s 2021 average and the company continues to invest in low emission production processes

Emirates Global Aluminium employees check inventory at the company's cast-house yard. Photo: EGA
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Aluminium is one of the world’s most used metals and plays a vital part in modern life. From aircraft components to soda cans, we all use it. This is one reason demand for aluminium is expected to increase by as much as 80 per cent by 2050.

The UAE is playing a growing part in helping to meet that demand. While the Emirates is well known as an exporter of oil and gas, it is also the fifth-largest aluminium-producing country in the world, with one tonne in every 25 made here.

The export of our aluminium brings in billions of dollars of revenue, contributing to the diversification of our economy, and I am proud of the important role that we are playing. Emirates Global Aluminium is now also playing an equally important role in helping the UAE to meet its net-zero targets.

The other reason demand is expected to grow is its role in the development of a more sustainable society. The use of aluminium contributes to decarbonisation economy-wide — think lighter weight electric vehicles or the aluminium used to build wind farms.

Once used, aluminium is infinitely recyclable — without any loss in purity or quality — and few materials are recycled so easily. Three quarters of all aluminium ever produced is still in use today. Baking foil from the 1970s becomes a window frame in the 1980s and was then turned into a soda can in the 1990s, and the virtuous cycle continues.

Given that you can make 20 new cans from recycled material using the same amount of energy that it takes to make one brand new can, it is clear how impactful reusing aluminium can be. That is why we are planning to build a recycling plant with an annual capacity of 150,000 tonnes, which is set to be the largest in the UAE.

The factory will create a low-carbon, high-quality recycled aluminium billet, with most of the scrap aluminium sourced from the UAE and the Mena region.

Currently, more than half the aluminium scrap generated in the GCC is disposed of or exported, so recycled aluminium will have an immediate positive impact. We are also changing how our new aluminium is made.

The aluminium industry is considered a “harder to abate” sector, alongside others such as shipping, aviation, and cement. Furthermore, the production of aluminium is energy intensive. Electricity generation accounts for about 60 per cent of the global aluminium industry’s 1.1 billion tonnes of annual carbon dioxide emissions.

That is why for about 30 years, EGA has committed to researching and funding new technology to improve the efficiency of our aluminium smelting process.

We have used our own technology in every smelter expansion since the 1990s and retrofitted all older production lines to ensure the efficiency of our electricity generation.

And, as a result of our efforts, EGA’s carbon dioxide emissions were 35 per cent lower than the industry’s 2021 average.

Joseph Anis of GE and Abdulnasser bin Kalban of Emirates Global Aluminium. Photo: Emirates Global Aluminium

This is a continuing process and we are continually exploring new and innovative ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Last year, we became the first company in the world to make aluminium commercially by using solar energy, which significantly reduces the emissions associated with aluminium smelting.

We are marketing this metal under the product name CelestiAL. EGA produced about 50,000 tonnes of CelestiAL for customers last year, including BMW Group and tier-1 suppliers of Mercedes-Benz and Nissan.

CelestiAL, recycled aluminium and other low-carbon metal is key to a sustainable future for the planet.

EGA is now one of the 67 global corporations that make up the First Movers Coalition, a group that helps to create early markets for innovative clean technology across hard-to-abate sectors.

Along with the likes of Apple, GM, Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing, we have made ambitious production commitments that will help to accelerate the global aluminium industry’s transition to more sustainable operation.

The growth of EGA in the UAE has been rapid and we will continue to expand as one of the most important companies for both the country and the world’s aluminium supply.

Now, we are increasingly doing so sustainably and responsibly as we make enormous contributions towards achieving the goals of the UAE Net Zero by 2050 Strategic Initiative and lead change in one of the harder-to-abate global sectors.

That is something we can all be proud of here at home.

Abdulnasser Bin Kalban is chief executive of Emirates Global Aluminium

Updated: January 17, 2023, 5:11 AM