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Rusal says it has stolen a march on its rivals in the race to market a greener mass-produced aluminium, through a deal with Budweiser’s arm for “ultra-low” carbon beer cans.
The Russian company will provide the brewer with 5m cans made from aluminium that has been produced using a technology that eliminates carbon dioxide from the smelting process. The 440ml cans will be made produced using primary metal from Rusal’s Krasnoyarsk plant in Siberia with hydropower and are due to go on sale in the UK later this year.
“The is the first commercial rollout of a near-zero carbon — or 0.01 per cent — aluminium,” said Greg Barker, executive chair of En+ Group, the parent company of Rusal. “It is the first time it has been done at scale.”
Rusal is in competition with a consortium comprising Rio Tinto, Alcoa and Apple to develop a carbon-free version of aluminium and tap growing consumer demand for responsibly sourced commodities and raw materials.
It comes the European Union prepares to introduce a carbon border adjustment tax on an array of products including imported steel, aluminium, fertiliser and cement.
The existing low-carbon aluminium brands already available such as Rusal’s ALLOW are mainly produced using smelters powered by hydroelectric dams. The emphasis is now on developing a greener way of processing alumina, the key ingredient used to make the metal.
In the traditional smelting process, a carbon anode is placed in a bath that contains alumina and other materials. A strong electrical current is then passed through the bath to produce aluminium.
Rusal and its rivals have been working on advanced conductive material that releases oxygen rather than carbon. This is called an inert anode and has been used to make the aluminium for Budweiser Brewing Group, the UK division of Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Barker said the goal of mass producing completely carbon-free aluminium was still some way off as Rusal was still trying to “perfect the technology”.
The 5m cans — which will be filled in breweries in South Wales and Lancashire powered by renewable electricity — account for just a fraction the beer Budweiser produces in the UK. The group brews more than 20m cans and bottles of Budweiser each week.
“The challenge for the next decade is to . . . bring down the price of large scale production runs,” said Barker, a former UK energy and climate change minister.
Inert anode technology is a key part of plans outlined this week by En+ achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Rusal, the largest producer of aluminium outside China, is 57 per cent owned by En+, which was previously controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska before he was hit by US sanctions.
In May, Rusal announced plans to demerge its high-carbon smelters and refineries into a new company that will be listed in Moscow so that it can focus on the market for “green” aluminium.
Under the break-up plan, Rusal will change its name to AL+ and keep its 12 most modern smelters and refineries as well as important mining assets. En+ will remain its majority shareholder.
Barker said Rusal’s bauxite assets in Guinea had been not been significantly affected by this month’s military coup. Bauxite is the raw material needed to produce alumina.
“The ports are open,” said Barker. There were three days when staff were not coming into work and were advised to shelter until the situation became clear. But there certainty doesn’t seem to have been a break down in law and order, which was our first concern,” he said.