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Happy birthday aluminium! 125 years adding value to society


11 Apr 2011


Sustainable Dev.

This year marks the anniversary of a discovery that has not only improved our lives, but plays an eminent role for Europe’s sustainable development. Safer and more fuel efficient transportation, energy efficient buildings, infinitely recyclable packaging – all have been possible with the help of this discovery made 125 years ago which enabled the production and the use of aluminium on an industrial scale.

The smelting process to produce aluminium was discovered almost simultaneously but independently in 1886 by Charles Martin Hall in the United States and Louis Toussaint Héroult in France. Both men dissolved aluminium oxide in molten cryolite and then extracted the aluminium by electrolysis.
Today, thousands of products can be made safer, lighter, more energy efficient and fully recyclable thanks to aluminium: from cars, trains or aircraft to cookware, packaging and electrical conductors.

Almost three-quarters of all aluminium ever manufactured (700 million tonnes) is still in use thanks to its long life cycle (10 to 20 years in transport and up to 50 to 80 years in buildings) and excellent recyclability. Aluminium can be recycled infinitely without loss of quality and has impressive recycling rates: over 90% in transport and building applications and more than 55% in packaging, with some countries exceeding 90% for beverage cans. Also, aluminium recycling saves up to 95% of the energy used in the primary production.

“No material other than aluminium can combine the advantages of being light and strong, totally recyclable, resistant to corrosion, completely impermeable, and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. In the 125 years since this discovery, the variety of applications for aluminium has grown apace and will continue to contribute to sustainable development and energy efficiency gains in Europe“, declared Patrick de Schrynmakers, Secretary General of the European Aluminium Association (EAA), which has just released the third edition of its sustainable development indicators (SDIs) report. This latest iteration of the SDI exercise includes, for the first time, indicators covering the use of aluminium in key applications in addition to more than thirty sustainable development indicators on the production phase. The report clearly demonstrates the sector’s contribution to achieving overall sustainability goals.

About European Aluminium Association: The European Aluminium Association, founded in 1981, represents the European aluminium industry from alumina and primary production to semi-finished and end-use products, through to recycling. The European aluminium industry directly employs about 236,000 people.

Contact: EAA Press Office c/o Grayling Avenue des Arts 46 1000 Brussels Belgium Tel +32 (0)2 738 17 82 Email


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