As a sustainable company, Alcoa is committed to the highest standards of environmental performance. Protecting and preserving the environment are core elements of our commitment to sustainability and our values.
Acknowledged as a world leader in a number of environmental management areas, we work hard to continually improve our performance through technological innovation, community partnerships and conservation of resources.
Alcoa has been included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for nine consecutive years and was named among the top three companies in climate-related innovation and carbon management by Maplecroft-Bloomberg in 2010.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
Alcoa has long recognised the need to respond to the challenges of climate change. The company took an early voluntary global leadership position on addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and has been successful in continuing to reduce our greenhouse footprint.
In 2003, we achieved our target of reducing global direct greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from a base year of 1990. Since 2003, we have further reduced global direct greenhouse gas emissions to more than 40% below 1990 levels.
In Australia, Alcoa is reducing greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency, productivity improvements and new technology. Since 1990, in Australia Alcoa has achieved a considerable direct greenhouse gas emissions reduction per tonne of production:
- Our aluminium smelters are down by 65%. That’s like changing all your light bulbs from incandescent to energy-friendly, or a large fourwheel drive having the economy of a Prius.
- Our alumina refineries are down by 21%, and it’s important to note we were in a good place to start with given our refineries run on gas, a clean transitional fuel.
- Our aluminium rolling operations are down by 23%.
Aluminium to become climate neutral
Worldwide, Alcoa is leading the aluminium industry’s efforts to make aluminium climate neutral. In the critical transportation industry, Alcoa’s research in lifecycle modelling has shown that by 2030 the emissions of the entire aluminium industry can be offset by the potential emission savings from the transport sector’s increased use of aluminium*.
The use of aluminium in transport provides lifecycle benefits from improved performance, fuel efficiency and lower greenhouse emissions. Replacing just two kilograms of heavy steel with one kilogram of aluminium saves 20 kilograms of carbon emissions over the life of a car. For other vehicles, such as trains, ferries and aircraft, the savings are even greater.
An aluminium component is 40 – 50% lighter than an equivalent steel component. Every 10% reduction in weight produces six-eight% in fuel savings, with a consequent reduction in vehicle greenhouse emissions. Alcoa continues to work with Boeing, Airbus, and the car industry to develop alloys for aircraft and motor vehicles.
Aluminium’s lifecycle also provides significant greenhouse benefits through recycling. Aluminium is almost endlessly recyclable with recycling saving 95% of the energy it would take to make new metal.
Alcoa is the largest recycler of aluminium in Australia, recycling around 50,000 tonnes of aluminium each year at our facility in western Sydney, NSW. An aluminium can recycles 100% back into another aluminium can while only using 5% of the energy needed to make a new can from scratch. Recycling one aluminium can even save enough energy to run a television for three hours. Nearly three-quarters of all aluminium ever made since 1886 remains in use today.
Alcoa’s alumina refining research and development team – a group of PhDs and scientists who sit alongside CSIRO and others – is based here in Australia and services the global business.
Since 1968 the Technology Delivery Group (TDG) has been developing innovative new equipment and processes for cleaner, more efficient production at Alcoa refineries worldwide, and consistently helps to solve environmental challenges through new technology.
TDG has developed ‘Carbon Capture’ technology that uses carbon dioxide (CO2) to treat bauxite residue. The process delivers significant greenhouse benefits by locking up CO2 that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere, as well as providing other environmental benefits in the management of bauxite residue.
Our first Carbon Capture plant is in operation at Alcoa’s Kwinana Refinery in Western Australia. The plant uses waste CO2 transported by a pipeline from a nearby ammonia plant and locks up around 70,000 tonnes of waste CO2 a year, equivalent to taking 17,500 cars off the road.
Another innovation to come out of TDG is ‘continuous biological oxalate destruction’ which reduces Alcoa’s energy use. This innovation uses naturally occurring microorganisms to consume oxalate – an impurity in the alumina refining process. Oxalate removal is essential for high alumina quality and refinery productivity, with the technology a cost effective and environmentally friendly solution to the oxalate challenge.
Continuous biological oxalate destruction is in operation at Alcoa’s Kwinana Refinery (saving approximately US$1.6 million in energy costs annually) and currently being implemented at Pinjarra Refinery (which will save US$1.2 million annually). Wagerup Refinery is expected to benefit from the technology in the coming years.
Alcoa and Alinta partnered to create two cogeneration power units at Alcoa’s Pinjarra Refinery. The units produce both electricity and heat from the same fuel source, delivering greenhouse benefits.
Cogeneration is around 75% energy efficient, compared with 30-50% for other power plants operating in the state. A year’s electricity from each cogeneration unit saves around 450,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year, compared with a similar sized coal fired plant. In addition, the cogeneration plants reduce Alcoa’s refinery emissions by 270,000 tonnes per year through more efficient steam generation.
Alcoa’s signature community partner is Greening Australia. Next year we hit a milestone, celebrating the 30th year of working together on conservation and sustainability across the country. This is, in fact, the longest running corporate/not-for-profit environmental partnership in the country and is supported financially at two levels by Alcoa of Australia and the Alcoa Foundation.
As one element of the partnership, Alcoa and Greening Australia launched two new research projects this year. In western Victoria, our project aims to harness bioenergy markets through the establishment of diverse native species bioenergy plantations. These plantations can be used to produce energy as well as biochar, a type of charcoal that can sequester carbon in the earth for thousands of years. We are essentially investigating how trees can be used to produce syngas, which can be used for energy generation, and biochar, that enriches the soil while sequestering carbon.
In Western Australia, our project aims to protect wetlands and waterways in the Peel-Harvey catchment south of Perth. The research is investigating ways to reduce phosphorus from entering waterways through the innovative use of vegetation. In particular we hope to find out whether traditional pasture plants, perennial plants with pasture potential including natives, and native vegetation can absorb phosphorus at the time of the opening rains. Researchers hope to develop land use management plans which will ease nutrient loads in the water and allow for sustainable agricultural development that’s aligned with conservation priorities.
Alcoa has a long history of striving to address environmental issues in partnership with community organisations, government, and academic institutions, with these new research partnerships another example of that.
Ten Million Trees
Many people know Alcoa as a world leader in mine site rehabilitation because we’ve won numerous awards for this work. But what a lot of people don’t know is that there are many more trees our employees and their families plant in addition to our rehabilitation efforts.
Alcoa’s global ‘Ten Million Trees’ initiative launched on Earth Day back in 2003. The aim is to plant ten million new trees by 2020. The program counts and recognises the trees personally planted by Alcoa employees worldwide, external to our operations. Those 10 million new trees will absorb more than 250,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year during their lifetime.
‘Ten Million Trees’ grew from Alcoa’s successful ‘One Million Trees’ program which began in 1998 with the goal of Alcoa employees planting one million trees within 10 years. Employees, contractors and their families, at more than 140 Alcoa locations in 20 countries, raced to the goal in half the time expected. It was then that Alcoa raised the bar, to create the ‘Ten Million Trees’ program. Australian Alcoans have planted around 1,269,000 trees since 2003.
Mine site rehabilitation
Alcoa of Australia was the first mining company in the world to achieve 100% plant species richness in our rehabilitated mine site areas.
Each year in Western Australia, Alcoa mines around 33 million tonnes of bauxite and rehabilitates around 600 hectares of jarrah forest. We have cleared just 1% of the state’s jarrah forest since 1961. The jarrah forest, where the company’s Huntly and Willowdale mines are located, is known for its diverse flora, being one of the most plant species-rich forests in the world. Therefore restoring botanical richness in the new forests on mined areas is a critical objective for Alcoa.
Alcoa’s rehabilitation objective is to re-establish a functional ecosystem that will fulfil the pre-mining forest land uses including conservation, timber production, water catchment and recreation.
Alcoa first achieved its 100% plant species richness goal in 2001. In that year, the average number of native plant species, in over 100 monitoring plots, in one year old rehabilitated areas just exceeded the number of species in unmined jarrah forest control plots. Since then the number has been close to the 100% target, but was exceeded again in areas rehabilitated in 2007, 2008 and 2009. It is important to introduce as many native species as possible in the early stages of the rehabilitation because successional monitoring has shown that the species which establish in the first year after rehabilitation persist for two to three decades at least.
The species richness results obtained from our rehabilitation monitoring are fully analysed each year and the factors contributing to the results are fully investigated. Our investigations have led to modifications to our rehabilitation procedures over the years, with the aim of improving future rehabilitation.
The ability to restore a piece of altered land relies heavily on a good understanding of the area’s ecology. Alcoa’s environmental departments work in collaboration with local universities, government agencies and private researchers in understanding the forest ecosystems to ensure our rehabilitation is second to none.
Alcoa undertakes pre-mining fauna surveys before entering a new mining region. If rare or protected species are found during the surveys, management plans are developed to minimise any impact on them.
Alcoa of Australia has its own dedicated mine site rehabilitation nursery. The Marrinup Nursery, located near our Huntly Mine, includes a state-of-the-art tissue culture laboratory, successful in restoring a high diversity of plant species for rehabilitation.
Some plant species, which must be returned to the land during rehabilitation, need a helping hand – and this is where the tissue culture laboratory comes in.
There are several ways plants can be returned to rehabilitation, but some plant species do not produce viable seed, or if they do it is difficult to collect, and some don’t readily germinate – these are what we call ‘recalcitrant’ species and they need to be grown in a nursery in a process called ‘tissue culture.
Tissue culture is essentially growing plant shoots in a sterile, controlled, environment usually in sealed jars. The plant shoots are grown on media which contains nutrients for plant growth; minerals, amino acids, vitamins, hormones, sugar and water – all set in a jelly called agar.
Every four weeks or so the plant material is divided and placed into fresh agar and within a few months thousands of plants can be produced.
Since 1994, Alcoa has created one million tissue cultured plants for rehabilitation efforts at the Huntly and Willowdale mines.
* Read the research report at: (http://www.alcoa.com/global/en/eco_alcoa/info_page/climate_overview.asp).
About Alcoa of Australia
Alcoa of Australia operates the world’s largest integrated bauxite mining, alumina refining, aluminium smelting and rolling system. Alcoa produces almost 45% of Australia’s alumina and over 25% of Australia’s aluminium. Its alumina production in WA accounts for 11% of total world demand.
Aluminium is used in trains, planes, cars, laptops, mobile phones, DVDs, building construction, outdoor furniture, screw cap bottle tops, beverage cans, aluminium foil, and more. But aluminium, of course, does not occur naturally – it starts out as bauxite ore, from which alumina is extracted. The alumina is then smelted into the shiny metal we know as aluminium before being turning into products which are part of our everyday lives.