Five questions for Stefan Glimm
Director General, Global Aluminium Foil Roller Initiative (GLAFRI)
The demand for aluminium foils is growing. Especially e-mobility and advances in battery technology offer opportunities for the future, told Stefan Glimm in the ALUMINIUM interview.
Mr. Glimm, what are the current trends in demand for aluminium foil products?
In 2017, global demand for aluminium foils increased by more than 5 percent, something that is particularly positive due to the fact that this demand was generated not only by rising economies such as those of China and India, but also by traditional consumption regions, including Europe. This growth is driven not only by the expansion of the middle class worldwide and increasing urbanisation, but also by a growing global focus on avoiding food waste, a field in which aluminium’s unique barrier properties are particularly useful. Yet new markets such as electromobility, where aluminium foil plays an important role in battery development, also offer tremendous opportunities for the future. I expect similarly positive growth in 2018.
The packaging of food, medications and personal care products are subject to extremely strict requirements. What advantages does aluminium foil offer?
There is no other packaging material that offers such a good barrier and protection against moisture, light and oxygen, properties than can literally be a matter of life and death for medications – and not only in tropical climates. Used with foods, aluminium foil can help preserve vitamins over a long period of time. It also extends shelf life and facilitates the creation of packaging sizes customised to suit requirements, something that can help reduce the rate of food waste, which currently lies between 30 and 40 percent worldwide. In fact, the loss of resources used in the production of food that never reaches the table is, on average, ten times greater than that for the packaging material used.
With the Robert V. Neher Award, you are recognising innovations in the field of aluminium foils for the first time. Where has the greatest progress been made in recent years?
With cars, everyone knows that the lighter the vehicle, the lower the fuel consumption, and the same principle applies to aluminium foil packaging: The lightness of the packaging minimises resource consumption and lowers the use of raw materials. That is why the continuous reduction in thickness and ongoing development of new applications is so important – a good example of this is the sharp increase in the use of bags containing aluminium foil in recent years. And when it comes to technical applications, there are so many examples in which aluminium foils are used in our modern lifestyle with its focus on electronics and mobility that I will limit myself to one: The increasingly large role played by aluminium foils in battery technology, and therefore in e-mobility.
What will continue to pose a challenge in future?
Aluminium is not only important as a raw material, but it is also a valuable material in and of itself. It can be recycled again and again, and in areas with functioning collection systems that encompass all packaging containing aluminium, such as in Germany, recycling rates of nearly 90 percent are achieved. The global challenge here lines in the collection, as this material must first be collected if it is going to be recycled, and that is why the aluminium’s value as a material is so important. Furthermore, it goes without saying that continuing developments in materials and alloys play a decisive role for technical applications.
The media sometimes casts a critical eye on aluminium packaging for food, with the discussion revolving around supposed health risks in particular. What is your opinion of this issue?
As with many other topics, it is an area in which emotion plays too large of a role. Packaging containing aluminium foil offers custom solutions that make efficient use of our resources. These not only help provide consumers with a secure supply of high-quality food and safe medications, but they are also subject to strict food regulations, including additional labelling information, such as that appearing on conventional untreated aluminium foil noting that it should not be used for acidic food. Just as with other consumer goods, in other words, it is important that it be used properly.