Does Tesla use virgin aluminum or recycled aluminum for Model S?

Does Tesla use virgin aluminum or recycled aluminum for Model S?

Recently i learned a lot about the environmental issues related to creating virgin aluminum from bauxite ore. My main concern is not so much the amount of energy involved in the whole process chain but rather the huge problems surrounding the so-called "red mud", which is extremely hazardous to the environment and is currently usually simply dumped in huge pools surrounded by more or less safe "walls". There have been cases when these walls broke down (e.g. with heavy rain) and red mud spilling out. Besides almost the whole periodic system, this stuff also contains various powerful acids and causes severe damage to your skin. In the areas were aluminum is produced from bauxite, ground water contamination is a regular problem (even if the dumps are kept safe), but in the case of red mud breaking out of a dump, you have a huge environmental desaster. This for example happend in Hungary some years ago.

This aspect of aluminum production is often ignored, most people only talk about the (huge) amount of energy that is necessary to melt raw aluminum from aluminum oxide (which is the final product of a complicated chemical process starting with bauxite ore). As most people know, using recycled aluminum instead of virgin aluminum requires only 5% of the energy. Most people do not know about the fact that using recycled aluminum also means that a lot less environmental damage is caused.

I asked Tesla's bulletin board about this but did not receive an answer yet, so i'm asking you folks now: Do any of you know if Tesla is using recycled aluminum when producing the Model S? (And, if they don't: Why?)

wcalvin | 27. Juli 2013

Recycled might be more variable from batch to batch. With safety specs an issue here, they might want the least variable source.

soma | 27. Juli 2013

I commend your conscientiousness about the aluminum recycling. I don't have the answer to the % recycled. But I would encourage you to let the question go, and not worry too much about it. Tesla will source the cheapest aluminum that meets the alloy and quality requirements that it needs. No one pays for "greener" sourced cars. You're already doing what you can by encouraging a shift to electric vehicles -- don't focus too much on the aluminum, which is just one thing out of thousands. If you were to look at the lithium batteries supply chain, your head would explode.

jkirkebo | 27. Juli 2013

Even if Tesla uses "virgin" aluminium, that aluminium will later be recycled and used again to make something else. It doesn't matter which type is used where as long as it's recycled after product end-of-life.

Brian H | 27. Juli 2013

IIRC, 85% of all aluminum on the market is from recycling. Who knows how many times one Al atom goes round the loop?

Brian H | 27. Juli 2013

Historical note: when first discovered, it was more valuable than gold.

cfOH | 27. Juli 2013

There's no difference between recycled and virgin aluminum alloys. Aluminum recycles so well that it's routine to make essentially "new" alloy from mostly recycled metal. It's a fantastic substance. I can't wait until we invent the transparent kind.


DigitalSavant | 27. Juli 2013

@cfOH - I was going to call you a nerd.. but then what does that make me? I get the reference! :)

nomoDinos | 27. Juli 2013

Fun fact: if you pronounce it "al-loo-MIN-ee-um" like in the infomercials, it becomes a space-age wonder metal, as opposed to boring old aluminum.

CfOH - "computer, heloooo computer"

moorelin | 27. Juli 2013
nomoDinos | 27. Juli 2013

Whoa. That just totally blew my transparent organ.

dborn | 27. Juli 2013

Aluminum in the USA. AluminIUM in Australia, and other British related countries. Essentially the American language vs the English language. You spell SOX if I am not mistaken, we spell it SOCKS in Australia.

moorelin | 27. Juli 2013

SOX yes. but only for baseball!!

tobi_ger | 27. Juli 2013

Sox sux.

Brian H | 28. Juli 2013

This is the Age of Aquarium.

nomoDinos | 28. Juli 2013

...or as they say down under, "Aquerinium".

Nicu.Mihalache | 28. Juli 2013

Even if Tesla uses recycled Al, that means other users will have to go with virgin instead in the same quantity. As soma said, that is far from the worst aspect of the manufacturing chain of the car.

The inconvenient truth is that any kind of car is very wasteful and polluting and most people in the world could never own or regularly use a car. The solution is to walk, bike (human powered or electric assisted), use public transportation methods, leave near your workplace, shopping place etc.

Of course, we love to drive and in many places those the alternatives are simply inexistent. So if you cannot or would not give up driving, stop worrying and enjoy your Model S :)

tobi_ger | 28. Juli 2013

You can find a lot of numbers and details here:
The Global Flow of Aluminum From 2006 Through 2025 - USGS

billbaggy | 28. Juli 2013

@cfOH, @NoMoDinos, Ah but the future is already here.

billbaggy | 28. Juli 2013

The best part is to read the discussion thread followings he article.

jackhub | 28. Juli 2013

Recycled aluminum and that from bauxite are combined at a point in the productions process. They come out as simply aluminum. There is no separate product from recycled aluminum.

DouglasR | 28. Juli 2013

On my car, if you remove the frunk liner and closely examine the underside of the fender, you can make out the word "B**weiser."

Pungoteague_Dave | 28. Juli 2013

Ours had virgin aluminum. Until the first thrust of the accelerator...

pebell | 28. Juli 2013

@DouglasR @PD: grin :-D

nomoDinos | 28. Juli 2013

Billbaggy - thanks, those guys making the comments made me feel like a normal, social human being.

Brian H | 29. Juli 2013

That's what happens when you link up with whack-jobs similarly programmed to yourself. Enjoy!