The 33rd International Aluminium Conference, Sustainability Panel, Berlin, Germany, 14 September 2018.
Moderator: Krista Bay-West, Director Of Learning, Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI), Pernelle Nunez, Manager - Sustainability, International Aluminium Institute (IAI), Christine Keener, Vice President, Commercial & Strategy, Alcoa, Geoff Matthews, Vice President, Energia Potior, Jenny Wilson, Global Procurement Manager Foil, Tetra Pak.
The panel discussion was wide ranging, with the moderator asking each panel member a number of questions. Below is the transcript of a number of questions related to GHG emissions and the energy consumption of aluminium smelters.
Krista West: Geoff, 80% of all GHG emissions in the aluminium industry worldwide relate to the energy, yet you have stated publicly that Aluminium Smelters can play a role in global decarbonisation. This is a big positional leap, can you explain your thinking?
Geoff Matthews: “If I were designing a heavily renewables supplied grid from scratch today, I would have a modulating aluminium smelter as a cornerstone partner. Not only does a modulating smelter provide resilience and stability to the grid, it can also act as a virtual power plant to liberate energy back when there is under-generation, as well as soaking up the excess during over-generation.
This grid balancing role in itself allows the grid to increase the percentage of electricity generated from renewables, and helps lower the co2 emissions of the entire grid.
An increased use of renewables it also critical to the electrification of industry in general, and IEA predictions show decarbonisation actually can’t occur without industry moving away from fossil fuels.
Therefore, grid-connected modulating aluminium smelters can play a critical role in future decarbonisation.”
Krista West: Do you see progress being made with modulation technology?
Geoff Matthews: “Three years ago, when my colleague, Dr. Mark Dorreen and I first started talking about modulation technology at conferences like this, people would just stare at us blankly with disbelief. Now not only is it being openly discussed, a number of other aluminium industry thought-leaders and bodies such as European Aluminium are including the need for flexible energy consumption and integration into the grid into their presentations. Both as a prediction of what the future aluminium smelter will look like, and as a selling point for the industry.
With regard to on the ground progress; the first full 120 cell potline at TRIMET Essen is currently being retro-fitted with EnPot modulation technology as we speak and should be operational later this year. We also have feasibility studies and trials underway with a number of other smelters.”
Krista West: What do you see as the road-blocks to further progress of energy modulation?
Geoff Matthews: “Like almost all things in business it comes down to money and people.
For widespread adoption of modulation technology aluminium smelters need to be able to either make more aluminium at a lower average cost, or to be able to make more money from selling electricity back to the grid than from producing aluminium.
At the moment this isn’t straightforward however, with both energy and transmission pricing not actually keeping pace with rapid changes in generation technology and the requirements of balancing the grid.
But there will have to be a catch-up so to speak in energy generation and transmission pricing in the very near future.
It is unthinkable to believe that the power pricing and contracts we enjoy today can remain intact. In fact, it may be detrimental for aluminium smelting to do so.
I believe it won’t be very long before owners of aluminium smelters look to increase the value of their asset by retrofitting technology that allows a smelter to become a virtual power plant, so they can trade in electricity when it suits, and makes financial sense.
If you don’t own your own power generation plant, being a virtual power plant is the next best thing. It allows you to make aluminium with the cheapest kilowatts and sell back to the grid the highest value kilowatts.”