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Billion-dollar 'green smelter' project sparks debate over future of dying industry: 'There's a huge opportunity on the table'

"That's a very attractive economic development opportunity for a state like Kentucky — or maybe for its neighbors."

"That’s a very attractive economic development opportunity for a state like Kentucky — or maybe for its neighbors."

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The aluminum industry may soon get a major clean energy upgrade thanks to a proposed "green smelter'" project that could slash pollution from manufacturing the material by 75% while doubling production capacity. 

Aluminum is essential to our modern lifestyles, used in everything from cars to airplanes to construction materials. It's also a crucial component for the wind, solar, and electric vehicle industries, all of which are important in transitioning away from polluting fuels. 

However, producing aluminum is a notoriously energy-intensive process, as Grist reported. The outlet explained that a large-scale smelter could require the same amount of electricity used to power millions of homes, and most of that power currently comes from burning dirty fuels.

According to the outlet, the aluminum industry generates around 1.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution annually, which is more than double Australia's yearly carbon pollution. 

However, the Department of Energy recently announced $6 billion in funding to help decarbonize America's industrial sector, including aluminum manufacturing. 

One of the recipients of the funding, Century Aluminum Company, may be awarded $500 million to build the country's first new aluminum smelting facility in nearly 45 years fueled completely by clean energy. 

While the grant is still pending, the aluminum manufacturer is working on finding enough clean electricity to power the massive new plant. Grist reported that Century Aluminum is eyeing Kentucky to build the facility, called the Green Aluminum Smelter

Although the state is sorely lacking in green energy capacity, bringing more clean electricity online could power the smelter and create thousands of local jobs. 

"That's a very attractive economic development opportunity for a state like Kentucky — or maybe for its neighbors," Rebecca Dell, an industrial decarbonization expert with the ClimateWorks Foundation, told Grist. 

She added that Century Aluminum is essentially saying, "There's a huge opportunity on the table if you guys can figure out a way to develop the electricity that's needed."

The outlet stated Century Aluminum is also reportedly considering sites in the Ohio and Mississippi River basins, but the location for the green smelter is still undecided. However, once the smelter is built, it will help revive America's dying aluminum sector. 

Slashing pollution created by energy-hungry industrial companies is also critical to cooling the planet and protecting humans from more frequent natural disasters resulting from warmer temperatures. Grist explained that America's major industrial processes contribute around one-third of all planet-warming pollution, so decarbonizing this sector is a top priority.

Efforts are also underway to clean up steel production: a Bill Gates-backed startup recently launched a plant that relies on renewable power to clean iron ore, and an electric smelting furnace being piloted in Australia could revolutionize the steel industry worldwide.

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