Mapping the global flow of aluminum: from liquid aluminum to end-use goods

Environ Sci Technol. 2013 Apr 2;47(7):3057-64. doi: 10.1021/es304256s. Epub 2013 Mar 11.


Demand for aluminum in final products has increased 30-fold since 1950 to 45 million tonnes per year, with forecasts predicting this exceptional growth to continue so that demand will reach 2-3 times today's levels by 2050. Aluminum production uses 3.5% of global electricity and causes 1% of global CO2 emissions, while meeting a 50% cut in emissions by 2050 against growing demand would require at least a 75% reduction in CO2 emissions per tonne of aluminum produced--a challenging prospect. In this paper we trace the global flows of aluminum from liquid metal to final products, revealing for the first time a complete map of the aluminum system and providing a basis for future study of the emissions abatement potential of material efficiency. The resulting Sankey diagram also draws attention to two key issues. First, around half of all liquid aluminum (~39 Mt) produced each year never reaches a final product, and a detailed discussion of these high yield losses shows significant opportunities for improvement. Second, aluminum recycling, which avoids the high energy costs and emissions of electrolysis, requires signification "dilution" (~ 8 Mt) and "cascade" (~ 6 Mt) flows of higher aluminum grades to make up for the shortfall in scrap supply and to obtain the desired alloy mix, increasing the energy required for recycling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aluminum / analysis*
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Internationality*
  • Recycling*


  • Aluminum