Novelis: Challenging the norm in aluminium

Written by: Geraldine Faulkner | Published:

Novelis is riding the crest of a wave what with the opening of the world’s largest aluminium recycling facility last year in Germany. The company will be exhibiting at next months’s Resource 2015. Geraldine Faulkner catches up with Andy Doran at Novelis to find out what the future holds for the aluminium specialist.

Buzzwords are the bane of modern life, especially when you have teenage children, so it's reassuring to hear the 'doyen' of the aluminium recycling world, Andy Doran, Novelis Europe's senior manager, sustainability and recycling development, say: "The new industry buzzwords simply describe existing behaviour. Whereas before we used the term 'closed loop recycling', now we say 'the circular economy'. You have to play the game." And Doran and Novelis are playing the circular economy/closed loop game very well.

Last October, the recycled aluminium specialist Novelis opened the world's largest aluminium recycling facility in Nachterstedt, Germany, which has been designed to process more than 400,000 metric tons of aluminium scrap annually.

Another notable achievement was the launch of evercan. Made of a minimum of 90% recycled aluminium, evercan sheet enables beverage owners to package their drinks in a high-recycled, low carbon footprint beverage container.

It is this emphasis on low carbon that Doran is keen to put across at Resource 2015 which takes place at ExCel on March 3-5. "We were at the event last year and we found it very interesting as it was novel and new. There was a vibrancy to it and a different level of conversation. Added to which, it reflects where Novelis is moving as a company," says the sustainability manager before adding: "We've traditionally be seen and acted as a downstream recycling company and in the past attended events about getting materials into the stream. The conversation at Resource is much more about the circular economy, design and ultimate use and that is the direction in which Novelis is moving."

Doran recalls that at last year's event the Novelis team found themselves talking to more academics and researchers and potential innovation partners.

"That was one of the reasons we signed up to come back again in 2015," he adds.

Changing supply chains' linear model

The sustainability manager is also participating in one of the panel discussions which focuses on the future of manufacturing.

This takes us neatly on to one of his favourite topics; namely the way supply chains are changing, or more importantly, should be changing. Novelis is keen to challenge the linear model.

"With the circular economy we are working with our customers to design products and processes, more so than has ever been the case in the past. We have a great relationship with Jaguar Land Rover in the UK (I don't have one parked outside) and we are the sole supplier of aluminium sheet to them," says Doran with justifiable pride.

Novelis worked with the car maker to pioneer a lightweighting process as well as a closed loop scrap process whereby all the materials that come out of the production area are returned to the system and ultimately incorporated into new aluminium sheet, thereby simplifying logistics.

Never a company to sit on its laurels, it is now looking to the second stage of its relationship with Jaguar Land Rover which according to Doran will entail amending the specification of the product.

"We will supply a recycled content alloy which allows us not only to include the production scrap, but also other recycled content."

The aim is to move away from primary-based, high energy procedures and look at making incremental changes including the decarbonisation of the product.

Nor is it just in the UK that Novelis enjoys a unique relationship with a high profile car manufacturer, the parent company in America has close ties with brands such as Ford, Audi, Chrysler and BMW where the aluminium specialist has also helped in issues such as lightweighting vehicles.

Investing in relationships at both ends of the spectrum forms an important part of Novelis' communications strategy. It is understood that not only must you forge meaningful working relationships with manufacturers, you have to get the recycling message across to the consumer too.

"Consumers probably don't know the difference between aluminium and other metals and are not aware if the can in their hand has a recycled content of 90%.

"Nonetheless the perception of metals with the consumer is good," explains Doran. "You can work well with your supply chain but you need the consumer and here there is still lots of work to be done. Hence we are strong supporters of initiatives such as Every Can Counts [the programme that aims to get people recycling at work and on the go] and MetalMatters [a campaign which helps local authorities promote kerbside metal recycling]."

The sustainability manager says Novelis, along with can-makers and some of the brand names, is currently looking at local authority collections that have recovery levels which can be improved.

Resource Association

Another position held by Doran until recently was as chair of the Resource Association.

"The creation of the Resource Association was something that was well overdue," he opines. "I learned there are a lot of aligned views from reprocessing companies who felt we were not getting our voice coherently heard by those who make decisions. At the Resource Association we managed to engage positively, and not negatively, and to show the value of getting quality right."

Something that Doran is obviously proud about from his three-year stint as chair of the Resource Association is ReQuip; a contamination value chart to help improve the quality of materials collected for reprocessing.

"This allows local authorities to make informed decisions when they go to tender," he adds.

Looking to the future, Doran says the emphasis at Novelis will continue to be on offering a high energy product, but taking it on to a different trajectory and ensuring the market moves along with the company; namely, keeping up with it.

"There is a certain amount of truth in continuing to do what we do and do it better," states Doran firmly. "The capacity footprint is pretty well there, so we must ensure we are sourcing and supplying that with the most economic and environmentally friendly means. We are also continuing to work with customers to look at their products and see if we can help them innovate."

One of the innovations currently being explored by the aluminium specialist is looking into how to make a beverage can out of a single alloy.

"Currently, a can comprises a three-piece construction; a ring tab, body and can end. They each have different technical properties so it would simplify the industrial process if they comprised a single alloy."

Novelis is clearly not a company that shrinks at a challenge and thank heavens for that.

The resource management sector is going to need all the resourceful innovators it can get to ensure commercial success in the future.


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