Sustainability Case Studies

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2010 — Environment

At Alcoa, best practices lead to energy efficiency

Optimal energy use is an ongoing priority in the aluminum sector. In fact, depending on geographical location and techniques employed, energy can represent 30-35% of the total cost of manufacturing this light and versatile metal.
A sense of urgency
The recent economic crisis led to a historic and brutal decline in the price of aluminum that, in turn, prompted Alcoa to take a very close look at how it could reduce its total costs. The application of best practices at every level of the organization and throughout our network of facilities was one of the means by which the Company chose to achieve this end. The potential outcome: tens of millions of dollars in savings and an improved environmental performance.
Alcoa initially prioritized twelve sectors, where adopting best practices would offer the most intrinsic benefits. For three of these sectors, it directly targeted energy: Electrolysis, the Bake Ovens that produce the anodes, and the Casthouses.
A Best practices Development and Roll-out team, made up of experts from Europe, Australia, Brazil, the U.S. and Canada (among others), was created and placed under the leadership of Ghislain Gaudreau, Manager, Best practices. Comprising specialists from every area of aluminum production, the team began gathering recognized industry best practices and rolling them out on a global level throughout the Alcoa Primary Products Group. The Health and Safety and Maintenance departments were called upon to help design and implement these practices to ensure that they met all requirements related to aluminum production, safety, the environment and equipment management.
A Baie-Comeau Smelter best practice
In collaboration with the team from the Baie-Comeau Casthouse, the experts from the Best practices group have developed and implemented strategic improvements that could soon be applied across the planet. They take into account a number of parameters:
  • Burn control and air/fuel ratios;
  • Control of the internal pressure of the furnace to prevent air infiltration or heat leaks;
  • The limiting of openings around the furnace (doors, refractory, etc.) to optimize air tightness;
  • A review of the instrumentation and controls; and,
  • Optimizing the cycles to prevent fluctuations in furnace activity. To this end, the smelter is primarily using only six of its 17 furnaces.
On an annualized basis, the measures adopted in Baie-Comeau have already translated into a 45% decrease in fuel consumption, which represents savings of $1.7 million and an 8,400 tonne reduction in CO2 emissions. Add to this the improvements brought at our other Québec plants, and the total annualized decrease in fuel consumption for Alcoa represents savings of 26%, or $2.9 million annually and 15,049 tonnes less  CO2 in the atmosphere.
A global vision of energy efficiency
“The results achieved to date in the Casthouse sector are a powerful incentive to continue developing and rolling out best practices at all Alcoa facilities,” said Ghislain Gaudreau. “But we must not forget that we also aim to optimize our energy consumption in the Carbon sector and especially in the Electrolysis process.” He also reminded us that our Québec plants successfully achieved five times their targeted energy efficiency gains in 2008, liberating 349 GWh. “It’s not surprising that the Deschambault and Bécancour smelters are members of Hydro-Québec’s Écolectrique network,” he concluded.