Saarland University metallurgist Ms Isabella Gallino’s PhD thesis could potentially pave the way for a paradigm shift within the energy-intensive and environmentally challenging aluminium industry. The ultimate objective is nothing less than the carbon-neutral production of aluminium. Germany's largest aluminium producer is the company Trimet, which now has access to the scientific expertise of Ms Isabella Gallino and Dr Ralf Busch as part of a major research project. To get some idea of the dimensions involved, just one of Trimet's plants contains 300 smelting pots, each of which houses table-sized graphite anodes that need to be replaced on a monthly basis. Gallino is part of a consortium for the CO2-free production of aluminium whose lead partner is Trimet. Her goal over the next three years will be to develop inert metallic anodes that are capable of delivering an efficient and carbon-neutral production process. Once suitable anodes are available, the other industrial partners will develop a prototype electrolysis system and test the new carbon-neutral production process. If all goes well, a small industrial smelting facility would then be built to produce smaller quantities of CO2-neutral aluminium.She was awarded her doctorate some 20 years ago at Oregon State University in the USA. In it she demonstrated that so-called inert anodes do in fact work in practice. Put simply, she replaced the conventional graphite anode by one made from an alloy of iron, copper and nickel. When this anode is used, the gas produced at its surface is not CO2 but oxygen and, unlike the graphite anode, the metallic anode does not get consumed as electrolysis progresses. The conventional method of producing aluminium from its oxide alumina releases enormous amounts of the environmentally damaging greenhouse gas CO2. 'Smelting one tonne of alumina results in the emission of eight tonnes of CO2 if electricity from coal-fired power stations is used. Even if we were to use green electricity, smelting one tonne of alumina would still emit 1.5 tonnes of CO2. The alumina Al2O3 is electrolysed in the smelting furnace, where it is decomposed into its negatively and positively charged components, which are separated from one another by the anode and cathode of the electrolytic cell. Up until now, the oxygen from the alumina is separated from the aluminium metal by means of a graphite anode. The carbon of the anode combines with the oxygen from the alumina to produce CO2, with 1.5 tonnes of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere for every tonne of alumina processed. What's left is mostly pure aluminium, a highly valuable raw material that finds use in many industrial sectors, ranging from automotive manufacturing to the beverages industry. According to the industry body that represents the aluminium sector, around 63 million tonnes of primary aluminium are produced annually, a fact that clearly underscores the need to introduce more climate-friendly means of producing aluminium.