Life Cycle of an Aluminum Can

Where did my aluminum can come from? Where does it go when I'm finished with it?
By: Sheila Morrison
Oct. 5, 2009 - PRLog -- Bauxite makes up 8% of the earth’s crust, it is the third most abundant element in nature.  The ore from which aluminum is produced is bauxite. More than 130 million tons of bauxite are mined each year.  It has been estimated that we have enough aluminum to last us 400 years.

Bauxite has to be processed into pure aluminum oxide (alumina) before it can be converted to aluminum by electrolysis.  Four tons of bauxite are required to produce two tons of alumina which in turn produces one ton of aluminum at the primary smelter.

Smelting is one of the most destructive processes to our climate.
Fabrication encompasses several industrial processes: rolling, casting and extrusion.

Aluminum is then formed into products.  The major outlets for aluminum products are in transport, building and construction, packaging and engineering.
The real impact on the environment, its carbon footprint or greenhouse gas emissions, can only be judged from the life cycle perspective.  What we're interested in here is the lifecycle of one aluminum can.

Once our can is used, we certainly hope it is recycled.  Recycling is a major consideration in continued aluminum use, representing one of its key attributes. More than half of all the aluminum currently produced originates from recycled raw materials, a trend that is on the rise. In view of energy constraints, we have a huge stake in the collection of available aluminum and developing the most efficient scrap treatments and melting processes.

Aluminum can be recycled over and over again without loss of properties. Aluminum recycling benefits present and future generations by conserving energy and other natural resources.

Recycling just one soda can saves enough electricity to run a laptop computer for over 10 hours.

Recycling saves up to 95% of the energy required for primary aluminum production which avoids greenhouse gas emissions used in the process. Increasing demand for aluminum and the long lifetime of many products mean that, for the foreseeable future, the overall amount of primary metal produced from bauxite will continue to be greater than the volume of available recycled metal.

The life cycle of an aluminum can from mining to recycling is 60 days.  Think of how many beverage and food cans you use during the next 60 days.

Global aluminum recycling rates are high, approximately 90% for transport and construction applications and about 60% for cans.  In 2004, the United States only recycled 45% of cans.  

I think we can do better than 45%, after all, it's something we all can do.
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Tags:Recycling, Aluminum, Bauxite, Go Green, Save Green, Mining, Ecofriendly, Eco Friendly, Energy Efficiency
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