While countries across the globe are pushing towards net zero emission targets, new research has highlighted an area of environmental concern in the production of solar panels.
- The annual demand for solar energy by 2050 may require more than 40 percent of current global aluminum production
- Aluminum production is emission-intensive, but refineries are increasingly switching to renewable energy
- If Australia produces low-emission aluminum, it could be a valuable export opportunity
An Australian study has found that to reach net zero milestones, the world will need almost 60 times more solar energy, which will cause “immediate” levels of global warming.
Solar cell engineering researcher Alison Lennon said part of the problem was the emission-intensive production of aluminum, with solar panel components made mostly of aluminum frames, inverter housings, roof cells and mounts.
“Australia is in fact the largest producer of bauxite and one of the largest producers of alumina – so there is a real opportunity for Australia to play a major role in this growth of renewable energy.”
The study revealed that for the global community to reach net zero by 2050, about 60 terawatt of solar energy would be required along with 480 megatons of aluminum.
Currently, there are 0.8 terawatt or 800 gigawatts of solar energy available globally.
The China opportunity
Professor Lennon said that in the coming years, when countries are considering possible CO2 limit taxes, Australia’s high emission aluminum will not be as competitive in the international market.
But if Australia could produce low-emission aluminum, it would be a valuable export and manufacturing opportunity.
She said Australia has taken over countries like China when it comes to greener aluminum production due to the location of our refineries.
“In China, where most of the aluminum is currently produced, it’s a little harder to do that because all of their solar farms are far to the west,” Professor Lennon said.
“There are many solar resources, but their smelters and refineries tend to be on the east coast where it is not so sunny.
“To transform their smelters and refineries … they would have to build very large transmission lines from west to east.”
Professor Lennon said Australia has four smelters, including one in Tasmania, which is water-powered and produces less than five tonnes of emissions per capita. tons of aluminum.
She said all the Australian smelters on the mainland are powered by coal, producing “well over” 10 tonnes of carbon emissions per capita. tons of aluminum.
The sector is preparing for renewable energy
Last year, the mining company Rio Tinto committed to supply its aluminum assets with renewable energy by 2030, reducing its carbon emissions by 50 percent by the same year.
The company is already investigating the use of hydrogen to replace natural gas in the alumina refining process in central Queensland, while Canada, where Rio Tinto’s smelters are water-commercialized, is commercializing a process to remove carbon emissions from the aluminum smelting process.
The company also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Queensland government to establish renewable energy in central Queensland.
Rio Tinto’s aluminum chief, Ivan Vella, said the move showed the company’s commitment to making its long-term industrial assets greener.
The company has said it will require about five gigawatts of solar and wind power to switch its Queensland-based Boyne Island and New South Wales-based Tomago smelters to renewable energy sources, as well as have a guaranteed alternative supply that could come from other energy sources. .