December 6, 2022

Retrofitting in an important part of any climate change plan, and this story illustrates that. From Inside Climate News via NBC News:

ROBARDS, Ky. — Shielded by protective hoods and covered by a hard outer crust, giant pots brimming with molten aluminum bubble gently in a series of long, metal buildings here that make up the smelter Century Aluminum Sebree. This is one of the country’s largest sources of a potent greenhouse gas that remains in the atmosphere for 50,000 years, tetrafluoromethane (CF4).

In 2021, this aluminum plant vented 23 tons of CF4 as well as a ton of hexafluoroethane — both are perfluorocarbons, or PFCs, that are among the most potent and longest-lasting greenhouse gases on the planet, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The pollution equals the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 40,000 automobiles, ones that will effectively remain on the metaphorical road for tens of thousands of years.

Meanwhile, a newer plant also owned and operated by Century Aluminum in Grundartangi, Iceland, emits just one-sixth the PFC emissions per ton of aluminum compared to the company’s Sebree plant, according to an Inside Climate News assessment of EPA data, as well as financial and environmental reports published by Century and Nordural, its Icelandic subsidiary.

That's shocking, right? What's going on?

It’s a tale of two smelters: older U.S. plants with some of the highest PFC emissions rates in the world and their overseas counterparts with far lower emissions — even when they are operated by the same multinational companies. The contrast highlights why the U.S. aluminum industry needs revitalization, environmental advocates say, even as it has declined precipitously in recent decades.

“They’re a shell of what they used to be, but that doesn’t mean they are allowed to be a huge polluter, just because they’re old,” said Nadia Steinzor, a policy and research consultant with the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington, D.C. “If there are technological fixes that the industry can employ to lower or eliminate climate emissions, they should be required to adopt them.”

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