En+, the hydropower-to-metals group formerly controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, has called on the EU to eliminate tariffs on low-carbon imports of aluminium, the lightweight metal used in everything from cars to wind turbines.
With the EU needing to invest almost €500bn a year to meet its climate goals, Greg Barker, the group’s executive chairman, said there was a huge opportunity to speed up the energy transition by embracing “green aluminium”.
“Why turn off Europe’s coal-fired power plants if the finished goods we buy or manufacture are sucking in high-carbon, coal-produced aluminium from the other side of the world?” said Lord Barker, a former UK energy and climate change minister
En+ controls Rusal, the biggest aluminium producer outside China, and its push for a separate customs code for low-carbon aluminium comes as Germany, which has unveiled sweeping measures to fight climate change, takes on the presidency of the EU.
“Europe still relies on too many imported high-carbon metals,” said Lord Barker. “These pollution-heavy imports impact EU manufacturers making everything from small electric cars to aeroplanes.”
Aluminium is often referred to as solid electricity because of the large amounts of power required to transform its key ingredient, alumina, into refined metal.
The industry is responsible for around 1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Carbon Trust, with 14,000kW hours of electricity needed to produce 1 tonne of aluminium from 2 tonnes of alumina.
Rusal, however, claims its products are low-carbon because most of its smelters in Russia are hydro-powered. The company says the carbon footprint of its production is less than a third of the industry average of 12.3 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of aluminium, and significantly lower than in China, which dominates the aluminium industry.
It is suggesting using a recent Carbon Trust report to help define low-carbon aluminium. This set a level of less than 4 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of aluminium.
He scored a victory last month when the London Metal Exchange announced plans to launch a platform to trade “low-carbon” aluminium, marking the first time a metal will be traded based on its environmental footprint in the bourse’s 143-year history.
However, its push has been criticised by rival producers that also have low-carbon aluminium brands and are developing new smelting technologies. They say En+ is trying to carve out a special niche for its metal so it can charge a premium tied to its environmental credentials.
The EU imported roughly 6m tonnes of aluminium last year, with Rusal supplying about 1.3 tonnes, mostly from Russia. Import duties currently range from 3 per cent for primary aluminium to 6 per cent for alloys.
“Aluminium must play a vital role in the zero-carbon economy of the future but it is essential that the aluminium is itself produced in a low and eventually zero-carbon fashion,” said Adair Turner, chair of the Energy Transitions Commission, which represents a group of business leaders, international institutions and environmental groups.
“And in a world where countries are moving at different paces towards decarbonisation, we will need to use trade policy levers to favour low-carbon production.”