Aluminum Use | The Aluminum Association

Aluminum Use

Quick Read

The use of aluminum presents great potential for increasing the sustainable use of energy. For example, aluminum’s light weight contributes to increased fuel efficiency in vehicles ranging from passenger cars to armored tanks. The metal’s 95 percent light-reflectivity contributes cooling efficiencies to “green” buildings and improves the energy production efficiency of solar cells. The aluminum industry is making continuous improvements in the environmental efficiency of producing aluminum through primary and secondary processes.

Take-Away Facts

  • The industry leads the way to sustainability
    Since the early 1990s, the aluminum industry has decreased greenhouse gas emissions from primary production by 37 percent and from secondary production by more than 50 percent.
  • Secondary production saves energy
    Secondary production (aluminum produced from recycled material) saves more than 90 percent of the energy required to produce primary aluminum. Secondary and primary aluminum are chemically indistinguishable from one another.
  • Recycling is efficient and widespread
    The metal is 100 percent recyclable without loss of the metal’s properties. Recycling is also widespread. According to a study by Delft University of Technology in 2012 in Seattle, WA, more than 90 percent of aluminum in buildings is recycled.
  • Inherent energy savings
    The use of aluminum to make industrial products inherently brings sustainable results. As an example, structures built with aluminum exteriors naturally reflect light and remain cooler.

Aluminum Sustainability in Action

Driving Energy Efficiency

Today’s consumers are demanding energy efficiency, and aluminum can play a key role in driving this change. In August 2012, the U.S. government set higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, mandating an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon for the 2025 model year. Because the use of aluminum provides significant weight reductions for automakers, many car companies are now moving to aluminum to achieve these goals. In fact, in 2009, aluminum’s use in road vehicles offset more than 90 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions associated with aluminum production in North America.

Electric vehicles are also at the forefront of improving fuel economy. Scientific research has produced an aluminum-air battery that has the potential of powering an electric car for 1,000 miles. In the building industry, aluminum’s ability to reflect 95 percent of solar energy significantly reduces the cost to cool buildings. Energy efficiency is a key qualifier for the coveted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building standard.

Increasing Energy Production

To enable increases in sustainable energy production, aluminum’s reflectivity properties are producing advances in solar energy cell performance. Research indicates that solar panel efficiency can be improved by up to 22 percent through the use of embedded aluminum studs. These structures are 100 nanometers long and reflect light into the absorption layer of the solar panels.

A Long Way Toward Sustainable Energy

Aluminum-air batteries have demonstrated the ability to power an electric vehicle for up to 1,000 miles. The Al-air battery consumes aluminum as a fuel. Aluminum’s energy density far surpasses conventional battery technologies and can rival gas and diesel fuels. A global automaker has contracted to purchase production volumes of the battery starting in 2017.

Coated aluminum roofs reflect up to 95 percent of sunlight.

Aluminum is superior to steel and iron in its ability to reflect the infrared (heat) rays of the sun. Properly coated aluminum roofs can reflect up to 95 percent of the solar energy that strikes them, dramatically improving energy efficiency. Aluminum is a key component in LEED-certified green buildings.


September 17, 2021
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