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Upcycling the soda can: Melting aluminum to shape cars of the future

Posted by Tony Palermo | Oct 26, 2015 4:41:00 PM | Metals,Aluminum

Next time you pitch your empty soda can in the recycling bin, think about this: that aluminum can – which has already been recycled many times over – may just end up as part of your next car.



Aluminum has been a hot topic lately, with announcements by several automakers that they plan to switch out heavier steel for the lighter weight metal in order to meet new U.S. fuel economy standards.

The demand, which has averaged 5 percent growth over the past few years, is expected to continue to grow at about 6 percent annually, according to recent announcements from some of the world’s largest aluminum manufacturers.

So where is this lighter weight metal needed by automakers, aerospace manufacturers and, of course, soft drink bottlers, coming from?

Aluminum is produced in two ways:

  •  “Primary” aluminum is refined from bauxite ore to produce alumina, which is further processed using electrolysis to create pure, molten aluminum that is shaped into ingots, bars and, later, thin plates and sheets of bendable metal. Making this is an expensive, energy intensive process.

  •  “Secondary” aluminum is used in products that have had previous lives – cans, machine and equipment parts or even lawn furniture – that are recycled by remelting them in reverberatory and rotary furnaces to form the same ingots, bars and sheets. Many of these massive furnaces now use oxygen to enhance combustion, reduce emissions, increase productivity and improve the melting process.

Aluminum can be recycled again and again

Because the metal loses none of its strength or quality in the remelting process, it can be recycled and unlimited amount of times. It also is significantly cheaper in terms of energy and raw material costs. Not to mention the fact that keeping it out of landfills is better for our planet!

In 2013, 43 percent all aluminum produced in North America was considered primary; 41 percent was secondary – the rest was imported, according to the Aluminum Association, the main industry trade group.

The key part of the chain is, of course, to getting the old aluminum to recycling facilities so it can be reused. Enjoy your drink and appreciate the fact that it might once have been part of an old airplane, and remember to put it in the correct bin, so it can be reinCARnated!

To learn more about efficient methods to melting aluminum for recycling, visit our website. 

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