Ralf Tendera: Less is more! Industrial recycling supports long-term economic growth

The costs of raw materials and energy are rapidly increasing and they are decisive in setting the price of the final product. In the future, only companies that use materials and energy efficiently will succeed on the market. The real challenge is to detach economic growth from the consumption of resources. As such, the motto is: less is more.

Economic efficiency and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive and can instead lead to a win-win situation and more growth in many sectors. This applies in particular to the steel industry and its customers. Innovative technologies and highly efficient welding processes allow the users to save resources while creating less pollution, which also leads to companies and operations having significant competitive advantages on the market.

Humanity could devour an estimated 140 billion tonnes of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year, unless the economic growth rate is “decoupled” from the rate of natural resource consumption by 2050. That is three times more than 2000 and the bottlenecks are already making themselves known. Global consumption has in­­creased nearly tenfold since 1900 while the world’s aggregate output grew by a factor of 23 over the same period. Thus, the use of resources and economic growth have already partly moved away from each other. But this will not be enough: For the last three decades, the use of resources has stagnated in western industrialised countries, but countries with rapidly growing economies, such as China, India or Brazil, are catching up and devouring more and more resources. An emerging pattern shows that the rest of the world is developing a comparable demand for raw materials, but this exceeds Earth’s capabilities; shortages and conflicts come up on the horizon. As such, the report from the UN’s Environment Programme states unmistakable: “Future economic growth must be even further decoupled from the resource consumption of plant biomass, fossil fuels, metals, industrial materials and construction materials.”

Especially considering the recovery of the world economy, sustainable production is becoming more important every day. Considering the rising costs of raw materials, we desperately need new solutions in order to create an intelligent cooperation between cost, process and resource efficiency. The cost explosion for energy and raw materials is becoming an economic risk for more and more companies. The material and energy costs are already decisive in determining the price of the final product in many sectors.

The consumption of material made 45 percent of the manufactoring costs alone in 2007. In comparison, the cost of labour only accounted for 18 percent. German companies need a paradigm shift to be successful on the worldmarket in the future. Instead of pursuing maximal profit from minimal capital the objective must change into sustainable value creation from minmal resources.

Companies that use efficient technologies for a cost advantage today will disproportionately expand this advantage in the future.

Less is more. The Lindab Group from Sweden, which is specialized in segments ventilation, building components and building systems, has recognized the signs of the time, especially when it comes to steel products. Steel is one of the few materials where nearly everything can be recycled. This means that less raw materials are used and that less CO2 emissions are released into the atmosphere. Steel provides us the opportunity to plan stable constructions that are not quite so heavy. They can be produced with relatively little effort at a low cost and be transported using less fuel. Thanks to steel, we are in a position to develop efficient ventilation solutions. In other words, less energy will be needed. These are just a few examples of how we make building easier for our customers while also reducing the negative effects on the environment.

The situation is quite similar for another essential raw material: aluminium. Life-cycle assessments (LCA), which were carried out for aluminium products, demonstrate a multitude of common traits. Manufacturing the product (extraction, processing and production) is associated with relatively high pollution values with regard to the environment and the use of energy. For use of the product compared to other materials, however, the situation is the exact opposite. The pollution resulting from the manufacturing process is often completely compensated by the low impact on the enviroment in the use of aluminium products. Additionally, a high proportion of aluminium gets recyc­led, which further reduced the burden on the environment. Lindab’s ceiling heating panels are exclusively made of copper, aluminium and an insulation slab made of polystyrene as well as a small amount of tin-solder. Altogether, it contains materials that are 100 percent recyclable, aside from the insulation plate. Already today all types of production waste are being recycled.

Lindab’s heating and cooling panels are integrated into the ceiling or are installed to be hanging freely and provide the room with radiant heating or cooling. The radiation share for the panels is around 50 to 60 percent compared to the approx. five percent for active chilled beams. As the air velocities can be kept low this results in a draught-free environment. Radiant heating can also be used with high ceilings since the radiant heating, despite the high placement, heats the underlying surfaces directly without any losses to the air. Due to the lower temperature gradient and the increased radiation temperature the panels are an energy-efficient heating alternative compared to other heating systems.

The manufacturing process for the panels is based on a worldwide patented procedure. The aluminium plate is connected to the copper duct (both materials are partially melted together under very high pressure), which results in a very efficient energy transport between the duct and the plate. The copper duct is shaped like a rhombus, which allows faster flow than a circular duct. This guarantees a very good heat transfer, even with low flow. The water ducts are made of copper.

The metallic material in the Lindab panels is 100 percent recyclable in case of any renovation work has to be carried out. Though aluminium and copper are metallically connected during manufacturing and cannot be separated, recycling is still possible. During recycling the heating panels are pressed into packages sized approx. 20 x 20 x 20 cm and are used as an alloying element of various qualities of aluminium in the metal processing industry. The proportion of copper in each package is very even as every centimeter of a panel contains the same amount of copper.

Sustainable in the long term! We are constantly working on solutions for reducing our impact on the environment and climate, which we achieve by developing methods that require a minimal amount of energy, protect natural resources and therefore have less impact on the environment.

We have set three long-term goals for reducing our impact on the environment and climate, which are based on the EU targets for 2020. We intend to:

reduce energy consumption by 20 percent,

obtain 20 percent of our energy from renewable resources,

reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent.

autorenbild-tenderaRalf Tendera
Ralf Tendera, born in 1965, Business Economist (VWA), is the Managing Director at Lindab GmbH (German headquarters­ in Bargteheide). Before that, he was the Sales Director DACH at Bodo Möller Chemie GmbH. Ralf Tendera has significant experience in the construction industry. Over the years he has acquired excellent knowledge in developing sales structures and customer services, by working  as a Sales Manager at VBH Deutschland GmbH and at Würth-Industrie-Service GmbH.