Display of colourful aluminium cans

Consumers will demand ethically sourced drinks cans, says aluminium expert

Image credit: Studio Blackthorns | Unsplash

Companies that rely on aluminium for their products such as drinks cans and deodorant bottles should start expecting consumers to demand the metal is ethically sourced, energy experts predict.

Lord Barker, chairman of aluminium producer EN+ Group, also suggested this could lead to a surge in new jobs as the industry looks to onshore production with plants powered by renewable electricity.

Lord Barker said: “As the energy transition rolls forward, the demand for low-carbon materials and particularly aluminium will soar. Roll forward 10 years, I can see heavy industry coming home after four decades of decline in UK manufacturing, as manufacturers strive to decarbonise and move their operations to jurisdictions where there is a plentiful supply of affordable, renewable electricity.

“This has the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs here in the UK by the end of the decade and beyond. This would be a very welcome, yet unexpected, industrial dividend from the UK’s world leadership in developing and pioneering offshore wind.”

The vast majority of aluminium is produced in China, where nearly all production plants run on burning coal. However, with global warming and environmental concerns becoming one of the key issues for younger generations, it is thought they could start shunning companies that continue to use materials from coal-fired sources.

EN+ Group is an Anglo-Russian green-energy and metals business, and one of the largest aluminium producers outside China.

The aluminium industry currently accounts for 2 per cent of global CO2 emissions – the same as that of the entire country of Germany. Lord Barker pointed out that there are a number of low-carbon aluminium producers in Europe and Russia, where electricity is derived from hydropower and new technology is being developed. 

This includes using 'inert anode' technology, which experts say reduces carbon emissions by 85 per cent compared to traditional methods.

Lord Barker, the former minister for energy and climate change under David Cameron’s Tory government, added that some companies are already addressing how they produce aluminium, including drinks and deodorant cans maker Ball Corporation, which recently signed a deal with EN+ to make low-carbon aluminium.

A recent YouGov survey, commissioned by the Carbon Trust, found that 67 per cent of consumers were in favour of carbon labelling for products. Two-thirds of consumers in all countries surveyed said they are more likely to think positively about a brand that could demonstrate it had lowered the carbon footprint of its products.

At the time of the release, Hugh Jones, managing director at the Carbon Trust, said: “The sustained and high levels of consumer support for carbon labelling suggests that passing this information on to increasingly well-informed and climate-conscious consumers can also enhance a company’s reputation and market share.”

Earlier this year, E&T looked back at the dubious legacy of Zhang Shiping - China's so-called 'Aluminium King' - who drove his meteoric business and financial rise with multiple coal-fired power plants. Retiring China’s many captive coal plants used in aluminium production would make a big difference to carbon emissions, but it is proving difficult.

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