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Aluminum as an Energy Carrier

Every tonne of aluminum contains roughly 8.6 MWh of stored energy, and at 23 MWh per cubic meter, it is one of the most volumetrically energy dense materials (2x diesel). A single aluminum soda can contains enough energy to charge an iPhone 14 over 10 times. The source of this energy is primarily from electricity consumed during the aluminum smelting process (we can think of aluminum smelters as enormous battery chargers), which can be up to a 70% efficient process.

How much energy is stored in aluminum?

Aluminum, like other fuels we are used to (e.g. hydrocarbons), can undergo oxidation. In our case, we oxidize aluminum with water, converting this stored energy to heat and hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be oxidized (burned in a furnace, engine, or turbine, or run through a fuel cell) to capture the full 8.6 MWh per tonne of aluminum.

How is this stored energy “released”?

Today millions of tons of aluminum waste are landfilled each year. This waste stream can be turned into a fully green fuel by saving it from landfills, where that stored energy would otherwise sit idle. In many cases, additional transport emissions can be abated by eliminating the exporting of this aluminum.

Is aluminum a green fuel?

Primary aluminum is aluminum that is smelted from bauxite ore, as opposed to secondary (recycled), aluminum. While there are carbon emissions associated with using primary aluminum for fuel, there are already some smelters (e.g. in Canada) where fuel derived from primary aluminum would have a lower carbon intensity than diesel today. Because aluminum smelting is already fully electrified, the carbon intensity of primary aluminum production will drastically drop as the grid electricity mix is decarbonized. The industry is ramping investments in technologies to remove those remaining carbon emissions not associated with the electricity mix, thus enabling full decarbonization. As that process develops, the emission-free smelting combined with aluminum’s abundance – it is the most abundant metal, and third most abundant element in the earth’s crust – energy density, and safety, perfectly position it to act as a global renewable energy carrier.

What about primary aluminum?

Found Energy’s technology uses a proprietary catalyst and treatment process in order to crack the protective oxide layer that naturally forms on aluminum as it interacts with oxygen. Once the aluminum is treated, it becomes activated and ready to be reacted with water for power generation. This process works with low quality aluminum waste and is minimally sensitive to contamination.

How is aluminum turned into fuel?

When activated aluminum is reacted with water, approximately 51% of the energy is contained in the chemical bonds of the hydrogen released and 49% of the energy is released as direct heat. Excess water in the reactor carries away the direct heat as steam, which can be put to further use as process heat for a suite of industrial processes or for building conditioning.

How much energy is released as hydrogen vs. heat?

During the reaction process hydrogen and heat are released. When the reaction is finished, the aluminum is fully oxidized and a new material is formed, green aluminum hydroxide. In nature, aluminum is found predominantly in Bauxite ore as various aluminum hydroxides. Aluminum hydroxide is used in pharmaceuticals, cement, fire suppressants, and importantly as the primary raw material for the aluminum industry.

What is left after energy is extracted from aluminum?

Alumina is aluminum oxide (Al2O3). Aluminum oxide is the main material used by the aluminum industry and is the feedstock for the smelting process. Aluminum oxide is the final product of the bayer process where bauxite is refined to aluminum hydroxide and then baked (dried) into aluminum oxide.

What is alumina?

Aluminum is produced all around the world, with major centers in North America, the Middle East, China, India, Russia, Australia and even Iceland. Aluminum is normally produced in regions with abundant cheap electricity and effectively acts as a means for countries to export excess energy.

Where is aluminum produced?

Aluminum is the 2nd most used metal in the world. Aluminum is produced from aluminum hydroxide, which is also widely available. In fact, aluminum is the 3rd most abundant element on Earth, comprising about 8.3% of the Earth’s crust.

Is aluminum widely available?

Aluminum is smelted via the Hall-Heroult process, which uses electricity to electrochemically reduce aluminum oxide to aluminum. The majority of this energy is not lost, but rather is stored in the aluminum’s chemical potential energy. Inefficiencies in this process are primarily due to resistive and thermal losses, as this process requires high temperatures for melting the aluminum oxide in cryolite.

How is aluminum produced?


Aluminum Waste

While aluminum is one of the most recycled materials on earth, there is still a long way to go. Globally, more than 7.5 million tons of aluminum are landfilled each year. Almost twice that amount of aluminum waste is shipped and traded around the world, which is inefficient from both energy and carbon perspectives.

Isn't most aluminum recycled?

Yes, Found Energy’s technology can extract energy from aluminum in any form and state. Found’s process can handle dirty, mixed alloy, and otherwise contaminated aluminum that presents significant challenges for most other recycling technologies.

Can Found Energy use aluminum waste?

Each year more than 7.5 million tons of aluminum is landfilled around the world. This includes mainly aluminum foil, food containers, mixed aluminum from the automotive and aerospace industries and more. Even more end-of-life aluminum is inefficiently shipped around the world before being recycled or landfilled elsewhere.

How much aluminum waste is landfilled annually?

Found Energy’s technology does not consume or significantly alter the alloying elements as well as different impurities. After Found Energy’s energy extraction process, these elements and materials can be filtered and recycled themselves.

What happens to the alloying elements embedded in aluminum?

Red mud is the byproduct of the Bayer process that turns the mined bauxite to aluminum hydroxide and then to alumina. Red mud is an environmental hazard that needs to be dealt with by the aluminum industry. Found Energy’s process recycles aluminum and turns it back to aluminum hydroxide, thereby reducing the need to mine bauxite and the creation of red mud.

What is red mud?

Decarbonizing Heavy Industries

The renewable energy transition requires three main technologies:

  1. Green power generation (e.g. such as solar panels, wind turbines, etc.). These technologies are used to harness energy from renewable sources.

  2. Energy Storage (e.g. batteries, pumped hydro, compressed air, etc.). These technologies are used to store energy that is produced from renewable sources to handle intermittency issues and smooth out demand/production curves.

  3. Energy Transportation. When a power consumer is not located next to a renewable energy source and cannot connect to a grid, renewable energy needs to be transported to this user somehow. Found Energy develops energy carriers to address this specific point.

Why is clean energy transportation needed?

Aluminum meets all the requirements of the heavy industries from a fuel perspective. It is power- and energy-dense, safe and easy to handle, abundant, and cost competitive with alternative fuels being considered. When using aluminum waste, Found’s fuel is even cheaper than existing fossil fuels and has the added benefits of simultaneously reducing landfill waste and environmental hazards of bauxite mining and processing. In general, many heavy industries are already looking at hydrogen as an alternative fuel - Found Energy solves hydrogens biggest pain points: storage and transportation.

Can aluminum fuel be used to decarbonize heavy industries?

Aluminum is one of the best materials for transporting renewable energy on board of shipping vessels (in some ways this is effectively, if not intentionally, what the aluminum trade industry is already doing). Especially compared to alternatives like ammonia and methanol, aluminum has the abundance, energy density, cost and safety profile to replace heavy fuel oils as regulation in this industry tightens allowable emissions.

Can aluminum be used as a maritime shipping fuel?

The aluminum industry is looking to increase its efficiency at both the factory and industry-wide scales. Given how much end-of-life aluminum is landfilled and exported, turning waste aluminum into fuel to power aluminum recycling and smelting helps solve both issues simultaneously. By using aluminum as fuel, the industry will be able to reduce its carbon footprint, reduce landfill waste, and reduce the need to mine for bauxite. As an added benefit, turning aluminum waste into fuel will reduce the energy costs for aluminum smelters, thus improving their margins and making their aluminum more competitive, as energy accounts for 30% of smelters costs.

Why should the aluminum industry use aluminum as fuel?

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