The UK’s aluminium industry has a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to drive sustainability, the circular economy, and the transition to Net Zero according to a leading sector expert.
Tom Jones, CEO of the Aluminium Federation (ALFED), made the rallying call after the release of the organisation’s latest report reveals more than 39,000 people are directly employed in this manufacturing discipline, with a total GVA of nearly £3bn.
Undertaken in partnership with the Fraser of Allander Institute, the document goes on to use an economic model that predicts the sector’s real value is closer to £7.4bn and supports employment of 104,000 full-time jobs when you consider the indirect impact of this unique material.
The former toolmaking apprentice, who has spent 35 years working at several high-profile global material producers before joining ALFED, believes aluminium’s lightweight properties and the fact it can be easily recycled will be crucial in helping UK manufacturing lead the way when it comes to Net Zero.
However, he also warns that both the Government and the sector needs to be bolder and braver when it looks at increasing domestic capacity, so that it can support increased demand from the automotive, aerospace, construction, packaging, rail and shipbuilding supply chains.
“We’ve come through Covid-19 and Brexit, and I’m pleased to say the impact of the Aluminium industry in the UK is growing once again and we stand on the verge of something really exciting…if we have the courage to lead the way in supporting sustainable manufacturing and the journey to Net Zero,” explained Tom Jones, who joined the Aluminium Federation nearly five years ago.
“Demand is definitely out there, but, as it stands, we only have one primary smelter on our domestic shores and that will just not be enough going forward…we need to build supply chain independence at both the source and downstream in the producers of castings, extrusions and profiles.”
He continued: “Aluminium is so light and strong, with its green credentials unmatched. For example, our Net Zero Report highlighted that 8g of carbon emissions are saved every kilometre for each 100kg reduction in a car’s mass, thanks to aluminium-driven lightweighting.
“There’s up to a 50% reduction in a building’s energy consumption with intelligent facades using aluminium systems and a 40% decrease in foil thickness of packaging achieved by using this versatile material.
“These are just three examples. There’s countless more and this is beginning to sway the thinking of automotive designers, architects and specifiers and those responsible for the safe transit of goods.”
ALFED, which is committed to expanding the market for aluminium products by helping solve problems, lobby government and boosting the sector’s competitiveness, has enjoyed a surge in membership in the last five years, with the number of companies it represents doubling to 175.
Members are encouraged by the focus on green growth and green jobs and, as a result, the organisation has responded by outlining a strategy that focuses on 100% of aluminium in the UK remaining at its highest value, strengthening capacity and working to ensure all legacy, bi-products and waste are utilised through conversion or recycling.
There is also a longer-term aim to create a Sustain Aluminium Centre that will bring all parts of the industry together with academia to explore efficiency savings and environmentally friendly processes.
Tom concluded: “All the talk is about green growth and green jobs and some of that conversation is in the future and aspirational as opposed to reality. Our industry is different.
“We are already supporting the move to Net Zero and there’s lots of opportunities for the UK aluminium sector to do more…if we work together and receive the right backing from the powers that be.
“This is an exciting opportunity and one we must seize…hesitancy will remove our early advantages and result in a historic moment passing us by again. I’m confident we can rise to the challenge.”