Eco-friendly aluminum

By Lisa Rummler

October 2008 - Although they won't necessarily change color, some future aluminum products will be green, thanks to Moscow-based UC Rusal'sGlobal Technology and Innovation Project Initiative.

The International Aluminium Institute, London, is providing support to the initiative, which aims to discover the best new applications for aluminum and develop innovative projects that expand its use.

UC Rusal and IAI have invited universities from the United States, Asia, Australia, Europe and Russia to submit research proposals for new, environmentally friendly aluminum applications and products.

"The key objective of the program is to foster the development of products and applications that ensure a continued and sustainable demand for aluminum, produced from both primary and recycled sources, with increasing usage in applications where the material can bring rapid and sustained improvement in energy efficiency, resource use, recyclability, secure packaging and transport," says Vera Kurochkina, director of UC Rusal's corporate communications. "We believe this will lead to more efficient use of energy in broad-scale areas, such as building and packaging, through substitution for higher-cost, less-efficient and poorer-performing materials and the development of new, effective and environmentally sustainable technologies."

From concept to reality
The initiative will take place over the next three years, and up to 10 projects will receive funding. UC Rusal is the main sponsor, investing more than $2 million. Additionally, there will be a new research theme each year: transportation in 2009, building and construction in 2010 and packaging in 2011. The deadline to apply for 2009 funding was Sept. 30. Kurochkina says a committee of UC Rusal and IAI representatives chose those particular topics because they have the most significant potential for sustained improvement in energy efficiency, resource use, recyclability and security.

The submissions will be reviewed by UC Rusal and IAI, as well as independent academic advisers and experts, including Thomas Graedel, professor of industrial ecology at Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Kurochkina says each submission must be able to prove the viability of the new product or application by developing a prototype, conducting a feasibility study and executing tests. The goal is to have most of the new applications on the market within three to seven years of their selection, a process in which UC Rusal will play a role.

"One of our main tasks is to help commercialize and implement the proposed concepts and projects," says Kurochkina. "We aim at helping the research teams make a step from the concept to the prototype, which will prove the viability of the proposed concept and later on will facilitate to attract investors required for the commercial implementation of the project. As a rule, this step is extremely complicated because it requires considerable financing but doesn't promise any business result to the investor. Therefore, it's hard to attract companies to invest in this stage of research."

Although environmental sustainability has not always been the inspiration for aluminum products and applications, Kurochkina says the metal has a long history of being on the cutting edge.

"Since its earliest production in the late 19th century, aluminum has been at the forefront of innovative design and technology, from the birth and development of flight through space travel, efficient and safe transportation, packaging and intelligent building design," she says. "Aluminum, through its strength, conductivity, flexibility and recyclability, offers designers, architects and engineers the potential to develop groundbreaking and sustainable applications for the benefit of all."

And according to Kurochkina, many the earliest submissions for the 2009 funding are in this vein. "We have already received a number of interesting ideas for use of aluminum in various fields related to transportation," she says. "Some of the proposed projects are really amazing, suggesting significant benefits in terms of energy efficiency and savings." MM









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