Towards Sustainable Cities – Life cycle thinking and recyclability

International Aluminium Institute (IAI) is completing its three-year research on benefits of aluminium in architecture. A symposium in London this week marked the final stage of the project, and Hydro’s Executive Vice President Hilde Merete Aasheim participated.

November 1, 2016
UK based artist Wolfgang Buttress
UK based artist Wolfgang Buttress created “The Hive” based on aluminium, enabling the construction of the monument now at display in Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. All photos: Halvor Molland

The objective of the Towards Sustainable Cities project, carried out by Professor Michael Stacey and KieranTimberlake Research Group, is to quantify and qualify the in-use benefits of aluminium in architecture.

Four reports have been published and are available from www.world-aluminium.org and as printed monographs:

1. “Aluminium & Durability” (2014) 2. “Aluminium Recycling & Recyclability” (2015), 3. “Aluminium & Life Cycle Thinking” (2015) 4. “Aluminium: Flexible & Light” (2016)

A fifth and final report “Aluminium: Sympathetic & Powerful” will be published later in 2016 and will include the outcomes of the Symposium.

The research shows that aluminium-based architecture and infrastructure is more durable than accepted wisdom suggests. Aluminium components within maintained interiors, such as a church or library, appear to have infinite life expectancy. Aluminium components exposed to the elements have a life expectancy in excess of 100 years. The service life of aluminium-based windows, cladding and curtain walling should be increased from 40 years to at least 80 years.

“In the future, buildings should supply energy to the local grid, rather than being powered by it. And we, as the aluminium industry, should provide the solutions for making that happen,” says Aasheim in a panel debate during the symposium. Aasheim is also current chair of International Aluminium Institute. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a powerful tool, that provides a scientific basis for comparing environmental impacts of materials and processes. Use of LCA in design practice is relatively new and few designers or engineers are trained. There are room for improvement along the value chain and the study has shown that quantification of impacts and benefits is essential.“Even though aluminium has its advantages: To maximize the benefits of aluminium, we must minimize the footprint of producing it. In Hydro we do that by producing most of our aluminium based on clean, renewable hydropower, by developing electrolysis technology to reduce the energy consumption and emissions further in the Karmøy technology pilot, and by systematically looking for application areas where aluminium’s properties make a real difference”, says Aasheim, adding that recycling aluminium after it has served its purpose in use has great advantages. Aluminium can be recycled over and over again, using only five percent of the original energy to convert used aluminium to new products, ready to serve another aluminium lifetime

“Every design decision should have a purpose, and more and more the purpose behind building design should be to improve energy-efficiency, reduce energy need for cooling or heating, or allow for energy production. This way we can utilize the advantage of aluminium as an important enabler for sustainable buildings, sustainable cities – and sustainable development”, says Aasheim.

Joanna Bacon and Hilde Merete Aasheim
From left: Joanna Bacon (Allies & Morrison) and Hilde Merete Aasheim (Hydro) during a panel debate on Life cycle thinking & recyclability.
The Hive is made of aluminium
The Hive is made of aluminium
Professor Michael Stacey (Michael Stacey Architects) speaking in microphone
Professor Michael Stacey (Michael Stacey Architects) has done much of the research during the 3 years Towards Sustainable Cities project have been running.
From left: Egil Hogna (Sapa), Ian Crockford and Julia Barfield (Marks Barfield Architects), during a panel debate on Aluminium: Flexible & Light
From left: Egil Hogna (Sapa), Ian Crockford and Julia Barfield (Marks Barfield Architects), during a panel debate on Aluminium: Flexible & Light

Updated: November 21, 2016