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Friday, April 23, 2010

Alcoa loves green, but not the environment

Alcoa is one of those "green" companies that lobbies for environmental policy. Of course, Alcoa also stands to profit from these policies, even while the planet might be suffering. My column:

Absent such regulations, an aluminum car frame is much more expensive than a steel car frame. With these regulations, aluminum, which is lighter, becomes more desirable.

So what's the problem? Alcoa is getting rich, but more people are driving lighter-weight, more efficient cars, right? Industry and the Earth both win, right? Hardly.

Making aluminum car frames requires much more energy than making steel car frames. One stage in the process -- dissolving the alumina to get pure aluminum -- inherently gives off carbon dioxide and the far more potent greenhouse gasses hexafluoroethane and tetrafluoromethane.

But Alcoa makes its aluminum in Australia, where Washington's CAFE and climate policies can't touch it. Down under, naturally, Alcoa's lobbying agenda isn't nearly so green. The Australian newspaper reported in 2008 that Alcoa "has warned that even a modest carbon cost on aluminum production could lead to plant closures in Australia and moves to higher-emitting plants in countries such as China."

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