Saving Energy – One Aluminum Can At A Time

Have you ever imagined that every shape, every cavity, every texture around you that is modified so as to suit your purpose, has taken some energy to make it? Have you ever wondered what journey it must have been? Starting from an underground mine, ending at your table or in your house.

An interesting case study is described in the book “Natural Capitalism” by Amory Lovins, Paul Hawken and L. Hunter Lovins. I will give it in same words. Most of the people need no more convincing than this to start recycling.

“James Womack and Daniel Jones, in their book Lean Thinking , trace the origins and pathways of a can of English cola. The can itself is more costly and complicated to manufacture than the beverage. Bauxite is mined in Australia and trucked to a chemical reduction mill where a half hour process purifies each ton of bauxite into a half ton of Aluminum Oxide. When enough of that is stockpiled, it is loaded on a giant ore carrier and sent to Sweden or Norway, where hydroelectric dams provide cheap electricity. After a month long journey across two oceans, it usually sits at the smelter for as long as two months.

The smelter takes two hours to turn each half ton of aluminum oxide into a quarter ton of aluminum metal, in ingots ten meters long. These are cured for two weeks before being shipped to roller mills in Sweden or Germany. There each ingot is heated to nearly nine hundred degrees Fahrenheit and rolled down to a thickness of an eighth of an inch. The resulting sheets are wrapped in ten-ton coils and transported to a warehouse, and then to a cold rolling mill in the same or another country, where they are rolled tenfold thinner, ready for fabrication. The aluminum is then sent to England, where sheets are punched and formed into cans, which are then washed, dried, painted with a base coat, then painted again with specific product information. The cans are next lacquered, flanged (they are still topless), sprayed inside with a protective coating to prevent cola from corroding the can, and inspected.

The cans are palletized, fork lifted and warehoused until needed. They are then shipped to the bottler, where they are washed and cleaned once more, then filled with water mixed with flavored syrup, phosphorus, caffeine and carbon dioxide gas. The sugar is harvested from beet fields in France and undergoes trucking, milling, refining, and shipping. The phosphorous comes from Idaho, where it is e excavated from deep open pit mines, a process that also unearths cadmium and radioactive thorium. Round-the-clock, the mining company uses the same amount of electricity as a city of 100000 people in order to reduce the phosphate to food grade quality. The caffeine is shipped from a chemical manufacturer to the syrup manufacturer in England.

The filled cans are sealed with an aluminum “pop-top” lid at the rate of fifteen hundred cans per minute, then inserted into cardboard cartons printed with matching color and promotional schemes. The cartons are made of forest pulp that may have originated anywhere from Sweden or Siberia to the old-growth, virgin forests of British Columbia that are the home of grizzly, wolverines, otters and eagles. Palletized again , the cans are shipped to a regional distribution warehouse and shortly thereafter to a supermarket where a typical can is purchased within three days. The consumer buys twelve ounces of the phospafe-tingedcaffeine0impregnated, caramel-flavored sugar water. Drinking the cola takes a few minutes, throwing the can takes a second. In England, consumers discard 84% of aluminum cans, which means that the overall rate of aluminum waste, after counting production losses is 88%.”

The simple aluminum can takes such a long path. If you throw it away, this all energy spent in making the can goes waste. Instead if you recycle it, the same aluminum can is manufactured in 1/20th of the amount of energy it takes to make a new one. This means huge savings in electricity, fresh water, timber and human efforts.

Here is another interesting link I came across.

Some interesting statistics from the link above,

1. Between 1990 and 2000, Americans wasted a total of 7.1 million tons of cans: enough to manufacture 316,000 Boeing 737 airplanes—or enough to reproduce the world’s entire commercial airfleet 25 times.

2. Had the 50.7 billion cans wasted in 2001 been recycled, they would have saved the energy equivalent of 16 million barrels of crude oil: enough energy to generate electricity for 2.7 million U.S. homes for a year, or enough to supply over a million cars with gasoline for a year.

3. From 1986 to 2000, about 9.6 million tons of cans with a market value of over $10 billion were wasted

So make sure you recycle whatever you can. Newspapers, plastic / glass bottles, and aluminum cans are the best candidates.

[Note: Aluminum Can Manufacturing case study- Reprinted by permission of the
copyright-holder from Natural Capitalism ( ]


~ by Kedar on December 18, 2006.

7 Responses to “Saving Energy – One Aluminum Can At A Time”

  1. reach me @ myspace,com please

  2. I think with recycling metal, one problem is contamination with salt (which is very abundant). You can afford to give the can a thorough rinse if the energy used for recycling is only 1/120th (or 0.83%) of the original.

    Keep up the good work, Kedar!

  3. How much energy does it take to make 1 aluminum can? Saving 95% of the energy is good, but it would be better if you never used the can.

  4. John, your statement is true as far as saving 95% of the energy to make a brand new can. Consider this point, an aluminum can is the most energy efficient container currently on the market. It can cool its contents very efficiently and heat contained contents very quickly. The sad point is too many people just throw them aside not thinking that they take 100 years to disintegrate. Too bad people don’t see the full potential of the aluminum can. What one could do is use a very small amount of water to rinse away the syrup, crush the can flat horizontally, place in a small plastic bag and bring it back home to be recycled or place it in a local recycling container.

  5. The most important question is what will be the next super fuel after oil. We desperately need a alternative efficient and most probably cheap fuel. Lets see when it comes true.

  6. I am posting this on my Facebook page because I care.

  7. i am sending this on my gmail cause i want to

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