Global demand for solar panels poses ‘global warming risk’ due to aluminum production

(ORDO NEWS) — As countries around the world strive to achieve zero-emission targets, a new study has highlighted an area of ​​environmental concern in solar panel manufacturing.

An Australian study has shown that the world will need almost 60 times more solar energy to achieve net zero emissions, the production of which could cause “alarming” levels of global warming if measures are not taken to reduce emissions from the panel manufacturing process.

Photovoltaic researcher Alison Lennon said part of the problem lies in heavy aluminum production, as solar panel components are mostly made up of aluminum frames, inverter housings, rooftops and fixtures.

“The emissions that could be generated from the production of this aluminum are really a concern,” she said.

However, Professor Lennon noted that even if non-renewable energy sources continue to be used in the production of solar panels, the transition to using more solar energy will still be good for the climate.

“The benefits are still there … [even] having all the elements to create solar cells without green aluminum, the benefits are still there,” she said.

“Australia is the largest producer of bauxite and one of the largest producers of alumina, so Australia has a real opportunity to play a big role in the development of renewable energy.”

The study found that it would take about 60 terawatts of solar power and 480 megatons of aluminum to get the global community to zero by 2050.

There are currently 0.8 terawatts, or 800 gigawatts, of solar energy in the world.

China Opportunities

Professor Lennon said that in the coming years, when countries consider imposing border taxes on carbon emissions, Australian high-emission aluminum will not be as competitive in the international market.

But if Australia can produce low-emission aluminum, it will be a valuable export and manufacturing opportunity.

Australia has an edge over countries like China when it comes to greening aluminum production, she said, thanks to the location of our refineries.

“In China, where most of the aluminum is produced now, it’s a little more difficult to do that because all their solar farms are far to the west,” Professor Lennon said.

“There’s a lot of solar resources there, but their smelters and refineries are on the east coast, where it’s not as sunny.”

“To convert their smelters and refineries… they will have to build very large power lines from west to east.”

Professor Lennon said there are four aluminum smelters in Australia, including one in Tasmania, that is powered by hydropower and produces less than five tons of emissions per tonne of aluminium.

All aluminum smelters on the Australian mainland are coal-fired, producing “over” 10 tons of carbon emissions per tonne of aluminium, she said.

“That’s a lot of emissions, and they’re high because it takes a lot of electricity to turn alumina into aluminum.”

Sector prepares for renewable energy

Mining company Rio Tinto last year committed to powering its aluminum assets with renewable energy by 2030, cutting carbon emissions by 50 percent by the same year.

The company is already exploring the use of hydrogen to replace natural gas in its alumina refining process in central Queensland, and in Canada, where Rio Tinto’s aluminum smelters operate in hydroelectric power plants, the company is commercializing a process to remove carbon emissions from its aluminum smelting process.

The company has also signed a partnership statement with the Queensland government to build renewable energy in central Queensland.

Ivan Vella, CEO of Rio Tinto’s aluminum division, said the move was indicative of the company’s commitment to making its long-term industrial assets greener.

This will help create the industrial demand needed to develop a globally competitive green energy solution and lead to more processing and manufacturing in central Queensland,” said Mr Vella.

The company said converting its Boyne Island smelter in Queensland and Tomago in New South Wales to renewable energy would require about 5 gigawatts of solar and wind power, as well as assured alternative supplies that could be sourced from other energy sources.


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