A new study out of the University of Chicago suggests that aluminum, the metal used to make many electronics, could be a major contributor to global warming.
The research, led by Professor Jeroen Oers, found that emissions from aluminum production, including from processing, had been steadily increasing since 1990.
It is the most significant finding in a large-scale study of the emissions of aluminum from all sectors of the global economy, said the study’s lead author, Professor Thomas Wessel of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IERFA).
Aluminum has been a significant contributor to warming, but it has been only recently seen to be responsible for a disproportionate amount of warming compared to the other greenhouse gases.
The U.S. and China are the largest emitters, while the EU and Russia are the second and third biggest emitters respectively.
Wessel said that if aluminum production continued on its current trajectory, it would account for nearly 70 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted from the world’s economy.
“We are seeing this acceleration, and it is just starting to show its effects,” said Wessel.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It found that aluminum production in China increased by 767 percent between 1990 and 2012.
It is one of the most polluting industries worldwide, producing nearly one-fifth of the CO2 emissions in the United States and about one-third in Europe.
The researchers estimated that between 1970 and 2020, aluminum production rose by 17 percent in China.
Aluminum accounted for nearly half of the world production of the metal.
The authors said the findings of their study show that there is a link between aluminum production and global warming, especially since the industrialization of the 1980s.
“This is not an issue of the aluminum industry, it is an issue for the whole global economy,” said lead author Wessel, adding that the study provides new evidence of a link.
He said that the results are consistent with previous research, which has shown that aluminum is a major carbon sink for the global environment.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Oers said that one of his primary goals in the new study was to get more people interested in the issue.
He added that the idea that aluminum might contribute to global cooling was not entirely new.
“The idea of aluminum being a greenhouse gas came from carbon capture, which was not a new idea, but we were the first ones to do a carbon capture study,” said Oers.
“It’s just that we were able to do it in a way that didn’t involve a lot of energy, and we had to get a lot more people involved.”
The findings of this study are also important, said Wethers, because it provides a way to understand the role of aluminum in global warming and how it might contribute.
“It shows that aluminum can be a contributor to climate change and global cooling, but also it’s important that we don’t let this technology just disappear,” said the professor.