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Building the future

with aluminium

Recycling of aluminium
building products

Contents

1. Introduction

2. Aluminium in the building sector

3. The environmental challenges

4. Recycling of aluminium building products

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5. The recycling process

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6. Conclusions

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1. Introduction
The objective of this paper is to outline the role of aluminium in the building sector
and reiterate the commitment of the aluminium industry towards environmental
protection and sustainable development. This paper describes the main uses of
aluminium in building products as well as the environmental challenges facing the
industry. Finally, attention is drawn to the impact of aluminium recycling and
description of the process itself.
The aluminium industry has a policy of working closely with the European
Commission and relevant national bodies with a view to contributing to the
development of best practices in this regard. In order to pre-empt possible future
European or national legislation on building products and specifically on
construction and demolition waste, the aluminium industry is actively developing
new technologies and alloys to continuously improve the environmental
performance of its products during their life cycle, including their end of life,
recovery, and recycling.

2. The use of aluminium in the


building sector
Aluminium is a product with unique properties, making it a natural partner for the
building industry. Thanks to its characteristics, it has become an essential product
for the building industry and over the past 50 years its use in building applications
has shown continuous and consistent growth.

Growth of building applications


'000 tonnes
1500
1400

1200

1000

800

600

400

200

0
1960

1970

1980

1990

1995

1998

Aluminium extruded, rolled, and cast products are commonly used for window
frames and other glazed structures ranging from shop fronts to large roof
superstructures for shopping centres and stadiums; for roofing, siding, and curtain
walling, as well as for cast door handles, catches for windows, staircases, heating
and air-conditioning systems. Most recently, aluminium has played a significant
role in the renovation of historic buildings. The characteristics and properties of
aluminium as a material have lead to revolutionary and innovative changes in
building techniques and architectural and engineering projects. Aluminium is
leading the way into the future of the construction industry.

Labnan Finance Centre,


East Malaysia

From Spalumic, member of


Aluminium Architecture (F)

Shanghais
Opera House

European Parliament Building


under construction

Aluminium is a strong, lightweight and recyclable metal


which is used in a variety of applications in construction

recyclability

design

formability

attractive
appearance

flexibility

Exhibition and Conference Centre Glasgow


Architects: Foster and Partners

durability

corrosion
resistance

lightweight and
strength

creativity

3. Aluminium in the construction industry


and its environmental challenges

From Technal, member of Aluminium Architecture (F)

The construction industry as a whole - builders as well as material suppliers - is


faced with a wide range of environmental issues which must be addressed. These
range from direct impact on climate change (energy consumption and energy
efficiency of buildings); to construction materials (health and safety); and disposal
of waste products (construction and demolition waste). One of the main goals for
the aluminium industry is to improve environmental performance throughout all
life cycle stages of aluminium products.
The aluminium industry has been working in close co-operation with the building
industry as well as with decision-makers at local, national, and European level to
meet these environmental challenges with a view to achieving sustainable
building. Sustainable building is directed towards integrating life-cycle
management which relies on three principles:
reducing the use of raw materials,
improving energy saving and efficiency, and
improving the overall quality and economy of the building process.

Aluminium meets all of these criteria thus contributing greatly towards the
protection of the environment and the achievement of sustainable building.
With regard to reducing the quantity of raw materials in the construction process,
the use of aluminium substantially reduces the weight of the building structure
resulting in an overall reduction in the use of other building materials. Further, as a
high value material which can be efficiently recycled with no downgrading of its
properties, aluminium is reused time and time again, continuously saving raw
materials.
Aluminium building products can have an almost indefinite life cycle, outlasting
almost every other construction material and low maintenance (only occasional
cleaning is normally required) contributes towards the efficient use of energy and
resources during the lifetime of the building. When, at the end of life, aluminium
products are finally recycled, only a small percentage (approx. 5%) of the original
energy needed to produce primary aluminium is required. These characteristics
mean that when taking into account their complete life cycle, aluminium products
meet the criteria of improving energy saving and efficiency.
Finally, as regards the improvement of the overall quality and economy of the
building process the aluminium industry is actively working to integrate, right from
the conception stage, the recyclability challenge. Aluminium building products
themselves contribute to lighter, longer lasting, and low maintenance buildings.
When at the end of life, the high intrinsic value and low recycling cost of
aluminium contribute to the costs of dismantling and demolition.

Aluminium products used in the construction sector play a


key role in achieving sustainable building
They contribute greatly to the protection of the environment
in terms of their applications for energy efficiency and
saving, and recycling

4. Aluminium recycling
Aluminium is a young and versatile material, which, thanks to its unique properties,
has been used successfully in a variety of applications in building construction.
From both an environmental and economic perspective, its most significant
characteristic is that it is 100% recyclable with no downgrading of its properties.
In a nutshell, aluminium building products can be remelted and transformed into
billets and ingots for new extruded and rolled products.

Recycling of buildings products


Dismantling

Separation

Remelting
Construction

New products

Extruded and
rolled products

In addition to the economic advantages of recycling a valuable metal like


aluminium, the process also has a positive effect on environmental protection.
Indeed the high value of aluminium means that recycling is a natural process with
aluminium building products being segregated from other construction and
demolition waste products and even protected from theft.
Construction and demolition waste products represent a growing challenge for
modern industrial societies. The depositing or incineration of most types of
materials can lead to air, water and soil pollution. This is not the case for
aluminium, which even if inadvertently dispersed in the environment does not have
harmful side-effects. Therefore, aluminium recycling not only has important
economic implications, but also contributes to environmental protection.

Aluminium can be recycled indefinitely


without alteration of its properties

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5. The aluminium recycling process


Generally, a wide variety of used aluminium is processed by the recycling industry by
use of different remelting processes, depending on the further use of the aluminium
alloy and its composition. Aluminium is remelted into new ingots, billets or slabs
presenting the same composition and performance standards as in the primary alloys.
The complete recycling operation consists of the following steps:

collection and sorting

remelting and refining

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In the construction and building industry, the recycling process starts with the
dismantling and collection of various elements, e.g. windows, profiles for doors,
curtain walls, roofs, sidings, door handles etc. This is followed by the separation
from different materials such as plastic, iron, wooden components etc. by means
of different technologies.

Afterburners and filters

scrap

two chamber
furnace

holding
furnace

degassing/
filtering

Aluminium parts are either sent directly to the furnace for remelting or if they have
organic coating or thermal break, then they are treated in a separate installation or
in the melting process into a special two chamber furnace where the remaining
organic material is eliminated with high performance afterburners and filters.
After remelting, the liquid metal is transferred for refining in a holding furnace
where various composition tests are carried out and if necessary alloying elements
are added. Successive phases of degassing and filtering achieve the desired quality
before casting new ingots, billets or slabs.

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View of remelt plant (interior)

View of filtration plant (exterior)

Aluminium represents an important solution to the


increasing problem of waste generation in modern
industrial societies

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6. Conclusion
ALUMINIUM: A PRODUCT FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
Thanks to its unique properties of strength, durability, corrosion resistance and
recyclability, the use of aluminium in construction products has consistently
increased over the years. Being confronted, together with the construction
industry as a whole, with a broad range of environmental challenges, the
aluminium industry is committed to the achievement of sustainable building.

COMMITMENT OF THE ALUMINIUM INDUSTRY TO SUSTAINABLE BUILDING


The aluminium industry addresses sustainable building at all stages:
Sustainability of the production of aluminium building products
The energy efficiency of the primary aluminium production process is
continually being improved through the development of new technologies and
the upgrading of existing smelters. Bauxite resources, though abundant, are
conserved due to recycling of end of life aluminium products.
Sustainability through the use of aluminium building products
The use of aluminium building products makes buildings lighter (less raw
materials), longer lasting, and more efficient through low maintenance.
Sustainability in the end-of life of aluminium building products
With their high intrinsic value, the recycling of aluminium building products is a
natural process contributing to the costs of dismantling and demolition as a
whole. The aluminium industry has in place an efficient, economic and
environmentally sound recycling system which ensures that aluminium is reused
time and time again, saving raw materials and energy.

SUPPORT FOR SUSTAINABLE BUILDING


The aluminium industry supports the sustainable building objective and actively
contributes by:
Integrating the concept from the production stage
The aluminium industry is working at reducing energy consumption and
emissions, and maximising durability, strength, and qualities of the products to
minimise the amount of resources.
Increasing buildings overall sustainability
The aluminium industry is already constantly carrying out research to strengthen
the energy efficiency of its applications (such as window frames) and to develop
even lighter and still efficient products.

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HOW THE INDUSTRY LEADS THE WAY


Thanks to their unique characteristics, aluminium products can play a decisive role
in achieving sustainable building.
With a virtually limitless variety of design possibilities architects and designers
have a natural incentive to develop totally new building concepts to meet the
environmental challenges of the next millennium.
Demolition can be transformed into dismantling and recycling using
aluminium building systems.
Existing buildings can be refurbished using aluminium building systems often
with a net saving in the total amount of aluminium used.
Light weight buildings using aluminium significantly reduce the amount of
materials used in construction with subsequent savings at the end of life.
Continuous investment in new technologies means that the aluminium industry
leads the way in product design and energy efficiency.

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European Aluminium Association


contact: Hans-Jrgen Kummert
Avenue de Broqueville 12
ph: +32 2 775 63 53
fax: + 32 2 779 05 31
e-mail: eaa@eaa.be