Whichever industry you operate in – sustainability is big news.
It’s never been more important for businesses to take responsibility, and to operate in a sustainable, environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner.
The world of gas cylinders is no different – and at AMS, we take our commitment to sustainability seriously. Our responsibility doesn’t end with our own manufacturing practices – it needs to go right through the supply chain.
In this article, we look at some of the sustainability and ethical considerations surrounding cylinder manufacturing, and the decisions we’re making to ensure best practice across our operations.
The Cylinder Supply Chain
The supply chain behind cylinder manufacturing is quite complex – involving a large number of different raw materials, sourced from countries across the world.
For a carbon composite cylinder, the two key materials we need are aluminium and carbon fibre – which we source from thoroughly vetted suppliers in Asia and the Middle East.
Before we make any credible claims about our own environmental practices, we make checks throughout the supply chain to ensure that every element, from the raw material suppliers up are operating in a sustainable, ethical manner.
This starts with the ore used to make the aluminium we use…
Bauxite Mining and Working Conditions
Unless properly regulated and managed, bauxite mining can have a huge impact on the environment, local communities and the workforce.
Bauxite mining is booming in the developing world – especially in Guinea, West Africa – which is now the world’s third largest producer. The growth of the global mining industry and an influx of new mining companies in Guinea has led to the emergence of poor mining, environmental and human rights practices.
In some cases, indigenous communities have been displaced, endangered species and habitats have been destroyed and water courses have been polluted by these new mines. In addition, Guinea is a centre of forced labour, child labour and people trafficking – with many people forced to work as miners in these new operations.
AMS – Sustainable Aluminium Sourcing
At AMS, we have extensive processes in place to ensure that the bauxite used in our aluminium cylinders has been sourced in an ethical, sustainable manner.
The bauxite used in our aluminium is sourced from mines that operate to the latest World Aluminium Sustainable Bauxite Mining Guidelines – and adheres to the principles of:
- Ethical business practices
- Sustainable development
- Respect for human rights
- Risk management
- Health and safety performance
- Environmental performance
- Conservation of biodiversity
- Responsible use of materials
- Social contribution
In addition, mines must have transparent reporting practices in place to monitor performance against these criteria. Our aluminium supplier also has an additional code of conduct, which mines supplying bauxite must adhere to, as a secondary buffer against unsustainable, unethical practices.
Carbon Fibre – End of Life Disposal
The other key material we use is carbon fibre – which isn’t without its sustainability issues. Manufacturing carbon fibre is an energy intensive process, and there is significant waste material created.
However, carbon fibre is a very robust material that doesn’t degrade, rust or fatigue. It has an excellent working lifespan, and its low weight delivers environmental benefits during use – especially in aerospace and automotive applications. Using carbon fibre can help to significantly reduce fuel requirements, providing excellent lifecycle benefits.
One of the downsides of carbon fibre are the issues surrounding recycling the material, in terms of complexity, cost and the reusability of the recycled materials. As a result, the majority of carbon fibre currently ends up in landfill.
Thankfully, this is changing, and at AMS, we are working with a partner in Asia to create a complete, end-to-end solution for the recycling of our carbon fibre cylinders.
Renewable Energy and Sustainability
At AMS, we are hydrogen cylinder specialists – supplying innovative companies across the world with lightweight, high pressure carbon composite cylinders for advanced hydrogen fuel cell applications.
Over the past year, we’ve supplied cylinders to the manufacturer of Europe’s first hydrogen droneand the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell bike for the G7.
As the world moves away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy solutions, it’s important to address the fact that renewable energy technologies have their own environmental impact, and some are more sustainable than others.
Electric Batteries and Mining
Today, most electric vehicles use batteries – most often based on Lithium-ion chemistry.
The growth in lithium mining is already having a major environmental impact – one which is only likely to get worse as the technology goes mainstream in an increasing number of industries. As with all mining, lithium extraction has the potential to harm soil, damage ecosystems and cause air and water contamination.
In Tibet in 2016, the toxic leak from the Ganzizhou Rongda mine made international news, when it wreaked havoc with the local ecosystem, contaminating water and leading to the widespread death of fish and livestock in the local area.
In South America, the huge amounts of water required to extract Lithium from the salt flats is having a big knock on effect on local communities. It takes approximately 500,000 gallons of water to mine every tonne of lithium – a huge amount for countries where water is already scarce.
Cobalt is another key material with a big environmental and ethical impact. It is almost exclusively located in central Africa – and it’s fairly easy to mine. It is also toxic when pulled from the ground.
Unfortunately, the high prices and ease of mining encourage poor mining practices. Unsanctioned, ‘artisanal’ mining is rife – often using child/forced labour, by hand, without protective equipment – causing the destruction of fragile ecosystems in the process.
The Benefits and Downsides of Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Hydrogen fuel cells are not without their environmental disadvantages. Hydrogen fuel cells do not require lithium or cobalt – but they do utilise some platinum and aluminium, metals. Therefore, there is the risk of poor, unsustainable mining practices in the raw material supply chain.
Although hydrogen is the single most abundant element in the universe, it doesn’t exist in its pure form. It has to be produced, usually from water using electrolysis. The hydrogen itself is therefore only as green as the energy used to produce it.
On the plus side Hydrogen fuel cells have an energy to weight ratio ten times greater than lithium-ion batteries. Consequently, systems have the potential to offer greater range while being lighter and occupying smaller volumes.
In addition, whereas lithium batteries have a limited lifespan and need to be replaced, fuel cells do not degrade over time – they continue to produce energy as long as the fuel source is present. This provide significant environmental benefits over a normal working lifespan.
Lightweight Carbon Composite Cylinders from AMS
AMS Composite Cylinders supplies a full range of advanced, lightweight gas cylinders to customers across the UK and Europe.
Our cylinders are used in a wide variety of applications, including healthcare, respiratory, SCBA, laboratory, industrial, emergency, aerospace, hydrogen fuel cell and environmental uses.
Carbon composite cylinders offer high pressure (300 Bar), low weight, and NLL (Non-Limited Life) performance, and are accredited for use worldwide, in line with ISO 11119-2, UN-TPED Pi, DOT (USA), TC (Canada).
Additional information about AMS Composite Cylinders Ltd can be found at www.ams-composites.com.
This post was written by AMS CC Director James Cooper