The Russians call it “solid electricity”, the aviation industry wouldn’t exist without it, and the European automobile industry would never be able to achieve future emission standards without aluminum. 25 million tons produced in 2000, 65 million in 2018, and 108 million tons estimated for 2050.
With high demand pushing worldwide growth figures, it was shocking to learn in 2018 that between 2013 and 2017, European aluminum imports have increased by 28%. In the EU, of the 26 foundries active in 2008, only 16 are still active, and a number of them are in precarious financial condition.
The manufacturing of aluminum requires enormous quantities of electricity, in the order of 30-40% of the production costs, and these figures would be even higher if most of the worldwide producers hadn’t delocalized to “low cost” countries where both labor and electricity is cheap and access to the EU is easy. No study of aluminum can be separated from that of the sources of electricity.
The EU producers have explained that they have delocalized, or maybe still hanging on because the electricity costs are the highest in the world due to the carbon tax and the climate policy.
There’s one exception.
In 2019, the Spanish foundries are discussing their survival. However, Liberty Aluminum, in Dunkerque in the north of France, considers its survival assured. Liberty has become the largest foundry in the EU, producing some 284,000 tons per year. They are directly connected to the Gravelines nuclear power plant, some 10 kilometers away, and have signed a long-term contract for 50% of the output of one of the reactors (450 Mw). Like all French reactors, Gravelines produces 5 or 6 grams of CO2 / kWh, placing it amongst of the most climate-friendly electricity in the world.
In a future blog, we’ll discuss the structure and operation of the European electricity market and explain why it currently cannot satisfy the aluminum market, how the European requirements are currently satisfied and the effects on the EU’s carbon balance.
Much of this blog is based on the LETTRE GÉOPOLITIQUE DE L’ÉLECTRICITÉ, N°92, written and published by Lionel Taccoen.