Primary production of lightweight metals such as aluminum is such an energy-intensive process that aluminum plants are sited based on the geographic availability of cheap energy. This makes an expensive process even more costly, as aluminum ore must be transported long distances to these sites for refining. Lowering the energy consumption, cost, and emissions associated with aluminum processing would allow for the construction of aluminum plants nearer to mineral sources. This would reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions involved in ore transport and refining, and make aluminum competitive with incumbent structural metals such as steel.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
Gas Technology Institute (GTI) is developing a continuously operating cell that produces low-cost aluminum powder using less energy than conventional methods. Conventional aluminum production is done by pumping huge electrical currents into a vat of molten aluminum dissolved in mineral salts at nearly 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. GTI’s technology occurs near room temperature using reusable solvents to dissolve the ore. Because GTI’s design relies on chemical dissolution rather than heat, its cells can operate at room temperature, meaning it does not suffer from wasteful thermal energy losses associated with conventional systems. GTI’s electrochemical cell could also make aluminum production significantly less expensive by using less costly, domestically available ore with no drop in quality.
If successful, GTI’s low-temperature cell would consume less energy compared to conventional processes while producing more cost-effective aluminum.
Light-weighting vehicles to improve fuel efficiency could reduce U.S. dependence on foreign fossil fuel resources used in the transportation industry.
Transforming aluminum production could eliminate nearly 150 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2025.
Reducing energy consumption and materials usage could lower the cost of aluminum by 44%, making aluminum applications for light weight vehicles more accessible to consumers.