Dr Düssel, you are currently featured on the posters of the IN4climate.NRW initiative. You are advocating a new kind of technology in your company; what are you working on at the moment?
With our virtual battery, we have developed a globally unique process, which enables us to modify our aluminium production to accommodate the volatile supply of electricity from renewable energy sources. We can ramp up production at times when there is plenty of wind and sun and “transform” energy that would otherwise be surplus into aluminium, and we can curtail production during the dark doldrums (when solar/wind power generation is very low) in order to make electricity available for other consumers. This process therefore allows more green energy to be integrated into the overall system. In addition to this project, I am also currently focusing on the topics of Big Data, digitalisation and Industry 4.0, as we are working on the development of a digital twin for our production plant. This will allow us to predict process events and to take corrective action in an even more timely and targeted manner. This will help us to increase the flexibility of our processes and also to reduce our consumption of energy and resources.
What needs to happen in practical terms to ensure that your sector – the metal industry – and industry in general will be climate neutral by 2050?
The carbon footprint of aluminium is made up of direct and indirect emissions. In order to reduce indirect emissions we urgently need more green electricity, and moreover at internationally competitive prices, since the price of aluminium is based on a globally applied stock market price. With a view to avoiding direct emissions, we are currently doing research into a new form of technology which would mean that no carbon dioxide is emitted in the aluminium production process, only pure oxygen. We are already reducing the carbon footprint of our alloys through recycling, incidentally. We have been using aluminium scrap in our products for many years. It is not possible to avoid primary aluminium, however, since demand for this raw material is steadily growing.
What motivates you?
I am an engineer. A fascination for new forms of technology in general and a passion for “tinkering around” and making discoveries is part of my job. In this sense I very much enjoy introducing new ideas and approaches to our production process and trying them out. The special bond with TRIMET is an additional factor. I grew up here; I did my training, completed my studies and got my PhD here. Naturally, I want to contribute towards supporting the company to participate in the climate-friendly future of our country. It is a huge transformation, but I am firmly convinced that we have what it takes to meet the challenge and to make domestic aluminium production sustainable. It is important for Germany as an industrial location to safeguard regional supply chains. We can only do this, however, if policy-makers create the necessary conditions and set up reliable planning horizons.