Case Studies

These case studies illustrate how Alcoa is acting upon its commitment to sustainable development throughout the world. We are pleased with this progress, but look forward to achieving even more.

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Worldwide - 2009

Switch to Bio-Based Lubricants Reduces Emissions, Costs

 

Through a collaborative research initiative with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), many Alcoa rolling mills around the world are switching to newly developed bio-based lubricants that can reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by more than 25%, improve the work environment, and potentially save more than US$4.4 million annually.

Historically, Alcoa used petroleum-based lubricants during the rolling process to both lubricate the aluminum and extract heat from the process to maintain the shape of the coils. Escalating oil costs and Alcoa’s emission reduction goals spurred the company’s scientists to either find or develop a lubricant substitute that:

  • Came from a renewable source;
  • Was made through a process that was economical and nonpolluting; and
  • Met all industry and customer standards for safety and performance.


In 2002, Alcoa Technical Center (ATC) outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USA), entered into a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the USDA, which had already conducted extensive research into modifying vegetable oil for industrial purposes. Under the agreement, the USDA provided existing research and base formulations to Alcoa. This work saved the company more than five years of development time.

Over several years, ATC scientists developed various soybean and canola oil formulations. They discovered that the number of ingredients that make up the lubricant could be reduced from a maximum of eight to three. Part of this reduction was due to the ability of soybean or canola oil to function as both a base oil and boundary additive, which adsorbs on the surface of aluminum and prevents it from welding to the surface of the work roll. Reducing the number of components made it easier to monitor and maintain the formulation in the plants, and it significantly reduced the price of the final formulation.

Alcoa engineers first tested these formulations on a micromill and then, for the most promising ones, on full-scale rolling mills in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (USA), Davenport, Iowa (USA), and Fusina, Italy. Customers were engaged throughout the project.

“This was the first research into vegetable oil lubricants for rolling mills,” said Dr. Sevim Erhan, director of the USDA’s Eastern Regional Research Centers. “I think sometimes people and companies are wary of new technology since it might take a little effort and resources to see if it will work. This project was a good example of a company being open-minded.”

In 2008, Alcoa’s Lancaster facility began using lubricants that are 100% vegetable-oil-based, and the Fusina rolling mill is expected to reach that goal in 2009. Alcoa rolling mills in Texarkana, Texas (USA), and Pt. Henry, Australia, are using bio-based lubricants, which means they are more than 42% vegetable-oil-based. The goal is to move most of the company’s 25 rolling mills to bio-based lubricants in the coming years.

If every mill makes the switch, the company can save several million dollars annually on lubrication costs. In addition, a life-cycle analysis on using vegetable oil instead of petroleum-based lubricants showed a drop in VOC emissions of more than 25%. The company also may receive significant carbon credits for using bio-based lubricants, especially in Europe.

“We learned a lot during this process that we could not have learned otherwise,” said Dr. Erhan. “Alcoa invited us to visit its laboratories and one of its plants, and this gave us quite a bit of insight that we could not have gotten in the laboratory. It has really helped us advance the field of bio-based lubricants.”

  • Came from a renewable source;
  • Was made through a process that was economical and nonpolluting; and
  • Met all industry and customer standards for safety and performance.


In 2002, Alcoa Technical Center (ATC) outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USA), entered into a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the USDA, which had already conducted extensive research into modifying vegetable oil for industrial purposes. Under the agreement, the USDA provided existing research and base formulations to Alcoa. This work saved the company more than five years of development time.

Over several years, ATC scientists developed various soybean and canola oil formulations. They discovered that the number of ingredients that make up the lubricant could be reduced from a maximum of eight to three. Part of this reduction was due to the ability of soybean or canola oil to function as both a base oil and boundary additive, which adsorbs on the surface of aluminum and prevents it from welding to the surface of the work roll. Reducing the number of components made it easier to monitor and maintain the formulation in the plants, and it significantly reduced the price of the final formulation.

Alcoa engineers first tested these formulations on a micromill and then, for the most promising ones, on full-scale rolling mills in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (USA), Davenport, Iowa (USA), and Fusina, Italy. Customers were engaged throughout the project.

“This was the first research into vegetable oil lubricants for rolling mills,” said Dr. Sevim Erhan, director of the USDA’s Eastern Regional Research Centers. “I think sometimes people and companies are wary of new technology since it might take a little effort and resources to see if it will work. This project was a good example of a company being open-minded.”

In 2008, Alcoa’s Lancaster facility began using lubricants that are 100% vegetable-oil-based, and the Fusina rolling mill is expected to reach that goal in 2009. Alcoa rolling mills in Texarkana, Texas (USA), and Pt. Henry, Australia, are using bio-based lubricants, which means they are more than 42% vegetable-oil-based. The goal is to move most of the company’s 25 rolling mills to bio-based lubricants in the coming years.

If every mill makes the switch, the company can save several million dollars annually on lubrication costs. In addition, a life-cycle analysis on using vegetable oil instead of petroleum-based lubricants showed a drop in VOC emissions of more than 25%. The company also may receive significant carbon credits for using bio-based lubricants, especially in Europe.

“We learned a lot during this process that we could not have learned otherwise,” said Dr. Erhan. “Alcoa invited us to visit its laboratories and one of its plants, and this gave us quite a bit of insight that we could not have gotten in the laboratory. It has really helped us advance the field of bio-based lubricants.”