Solar power and blockchain: BMW and Rio Tinto make major moves on sustainable aluminium

Aluminium is a key material for sectors including electric vehicles

The production of aluminium is both energy-intensive and hard-to-abate, as traditional methods rely on fossil-powered heat. When BMW first announced plans to reduce its emissions footprint by one-third by 2030, on a per-vehicle basis, the company said in a statement that it would need to engage materials suppliers to adopt low-carbon technologies and processes. It set a target to cut absolute emissions across the supplier network by one-fifth.

To that end, the company has begun sourcing aluminium from plants that use solar power. It took the first delivery this week and believes that, if green power is scaled across its aluminium supply chain, some 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be mitigated within a 10-year period.

Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA) is providing the initial deliveries of this material via an exclusive contract. The firm claims it is the first in the world to use solar-generated electricity, sourcing power from Dubai’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. To ensure that the sustainability credentials of the metal produced, beyond carbon footprint of energy use, the firm works with the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) certification body.

In time, BMW is hoping to source 43,000 tonnes of aluminium produced using solar power each year – around half of its annual requirements.

“We will be able to meet over 50% of our CO2 targets for the supplier network, just by using green power,” BMW’s board member responsible for purchasing and the supplier network, Dr Andreas Wendt, said.

“The use of solar electricity for producing aluminium is a major step in this direction.”

Elsewhere, BMW is contributing to a project developing a recyclable battery that can be produced using 100% renewable power. It is notably a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance, which is striving to build more sustainable value chains as electric vehicle battery supply chains scale up.

It’s a START

In related news, Rio Tinto has launched a new sustainability certification for aluminium, that requires materials to be tracked across the supply chain using blockchain technology.

Materials and products with the ‘START’ label are tracked using blockchain across all stages of the supply chain. The technology acts as a tamper-proof digital ledger, storing information relating to carbon footprint, water use, recycled content, energy sources, community investment, safety performance and regulatory compliance.

This information – along with facts about business governance structures and processes, and diversity in leadership – will be conveyed to Rio Tinto customers via a digital label that can be scanned. All aluminium sold by Rio Tinto globally will now bear this kind of label.

“START is a significant step forward for the aluminium industry as the first offering of this kind, setting a new standard on transparency, traceability and responsible production from mine to market,” Rio Tinto Aluminium’s chief executive Alf Barrios said.

PwC has highlighted blockchain as one of the ‘essential eight’ technologies that will play a crucial role in tackling climate issues and the technology as has also been heralded as a transformative way to digitally track supply chain activity by techUK.

Other big businesses deploying blockchain in a push for greater supply chain traceability include Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Princes,  AB InBev and the Estee Lauder Companies.

Sarah George

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