The U.S. needs it for a green economy, but aluminum isn't very green
The Alcoa Warrick plant in southern Indiana has had more pollution violations than any other aluminum smelter in the country in recent years. That’s according to a new report by the Environmental Integrity Project showing aluminum production is a major source of greenhouse gases and air and water pollution.
Alcoa Warrick emits the fifth most greenhouse gases of any industrial facility in the state and put more mercury into the Ohio River than allowed nearly 30 times in the past five years.
EIP policy and research analyst Nadia Steinzor is the lead author of the report. She said aluminum is something many of us use daily and is likely to play an even bigger role in the clean energy economy.
“Primarily as a way to offset the weight of electric vehicles because it's so lightweight and it's also a really major component in solar panels and even in wind turbines," Steinzor said.
The report said every step in the process of making aluminum negatively impacts the environment and public health — and 70 percent of the climate-altering emissions come from smelting.
“And the key issue there is the high, high volumes of electricity that are used to convert the powder to a metal and then to keep it in a molten state," Steinzor said.
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It recommends the industry power its operations with renewable energy instead of coal and other fossil fuels, install scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions and use more recycled aluminum in its processes.
It also said the Environmental Protection Agency should update its technology requirements for the aluminum industry — which haven’t changed in decades.
The Aluminum Association said it supports efforts to decarbonize the industry — and so do major companies like Ford and Pepsi. Eight of those corporations sent a letter on Thursday urging the Department of Energy to allow aluminum makers to use incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act.