Environmental concerns


Norðurál has been successful in limiting greenhouse gas emissions, reducing waste, and improving the use of raw materials. We are constantly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, increasing recycling, and improving our methods. That is why we can call our aluminum the most environmentally friendly aluminum in the world.


Norðurál emphasizes that its operations are conducted in harmony with the environment. We strive to minimize the environmental impact while promoting the responsible use of energy and raw materials. Norðurál promotes increased environmental awareness and staff participation in reforms. Norðurál satisfies the requirements for operating licenses and complies with environmental laws and regulations.


Environmental objectives


  • Emissions are minimized
  • Employees are aware of the environmental impact of operations
  • Responsible recycling and disposal


Carbon neutrality


Norðurál produces aluminum with one of the world’s smallest carbon footprints. Considering the whole process, from the processing of raw materials to the delivery of the finished product, the carbon footprint of Norðurál aluminum only amounts to a quarter of the world average. We aspire to be the first aluminum plant in the world to produce carbon-neutral aluminum.


The largest source of greenhouse gases from aluminum plants is the CO₂ emitted when carbon electrodes are burned in the electrolysis of aluminum. Despite all available technology, there is no other way to produce aluminum. That is why these two options are usually considered for reducing GHG emissions from aluminum plants:


1. Developing a new type of anode where carbon does not bond with oxygen. This would result in negligible CO₂ emissions.


2. Capturing CO₂ in emissions from pot rooms and chimneys. The biggest challenge in this is that the concentration of CO₂ per volume in emissions is low, or approximately the same as in the atmosphere.


Norðurál takes part in development and innovation projects that aim to make our aluminum production completely carbon-neutral. These are some of the projects being carried out in Iceland where the ingenuity and expertise of Norðurál’s experts plays a key role:


  • Norðurál and Norwegian company Ocean Geoloop will collaborate on developing a solution to capture CO₂ emitted in the production process. Using hydroelectric technology, CO₂ from the aluminum plant is utilized to generate electricity, which will then result in an automatic carbon capturing solution for Norðurál.
  • Norðurál and the Qair Group, a producer of renewable electricity, intend to develop solutions to capture and sequester carbon dioxide emitted in the aluminum production. Qair’s plans are to use CO₂ to produce e-fuel in their planned hydrogen plant at Grundartangi.
  • Norðurál sponsors students at Reykjavík University for projects to achieve carbon neutrality. Support has been provided in connection with applications for grants and access to data and experts.
  • Recently, Guðrún Arnbjörg Sævarsdóttir, professor at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Reykjavik, received a grant from the PhD Research Fund so that she can work on increasing the carbon dioxide concentration in Norðurál emissions so that solutions such as CarbFix can be used.
  • Norðurál is one of the companies that signed a declaration of intent, along with the government and Reykjavík Energy, to investigate whether CarbFix may be a realistic option to reduce industrial CO₂ emissions. As Reykjavík Energy’s biggest customer, we have been involved in the CarbFix project from the beginning.
  • Norðurál has assisted Arctus Metal in their work to develop carbon-free anodes.


Climate action plan


The environmental impact of Norðurál’s activities is twofold. There is both the environment impact of the aluminum production itself, which falls under the EU Emissions Trading System, and the general environmental impact that comes with the operation of a large company. That is why we actually have two kinds of environmental accounting: one for the production part and another for emissions from the company’s other activities.


We have set ambitious goals when it comes to the aluminum production itself, but we are just as determined to minimize greenhouse gas emission that do not fall under the EU Emissions Trading System. This is in line with Iceland’s commitments to the Paris Agreement, according to which emissions should be reduced by at least 40% by 2030 compared to the 2015 level. At the same time, the burial of general waste must have been reduced by at least 40% by 2030 compared to the 2015 level. Good results have already been achieved. Greenhouse gas emissions within the scope of the Action Plan have decreased by 27% and the amount of waste by 8%.

Oil consumption of machines and equipment is the biggest part of the whole, and a 12% reduction has already been achieved.

Our climate action plan includes 10 actions that address the biggest emission factors in activities not covered by the EU Emissions Trading System or that are not part of the aluminum production itself.

Our Climate Action Plan is outlined in more detail here.


Environmental monitoring


Norðurál’s immediate environment, Grundartangi and Hvalfjörður, is one of the most studied areas in Iceland. Independent entities monitor approximately 100 factors in air, sea, fresh water, domestic animals, and vegetation to ensure that industrial activities at Grundartangi do not have a negative environmental impact. The environmental monitoring of the industrial site at Grundartangi takes place according to the environmental monitoring plan drawn up in accordance with operating licenses and approved by the Environment Agency of Iceland. The companies involved in the environmental monitoring are Elkem Ísland, Norðurál at Grundartangi, and Alur Álvinnsla.


The latest environmental monitoring report can be found here.


Continuous measurements in the production area


Continuous measurements are used to monitor fluoride, dust, and sulfur dioxide emissions from pot rooms and scrubbers. Fluoride emission measurements from pot rooms are based on both measurements of fluorine gas concentrations with a laser beam and measurements of air volume with air flow measurements.


Measuring points – monitoring of local emissions


Green accounting


Or goal is to utilize all raw materials to the greatest extent possible, and to report in detail how we dispose of all undesirable substances. Norðurál’s green accounting is a detailed record of all materials that enter and leave the plant. The accounting clearly shows that we have achieved significant results in numerous areas. The applies to everything from the improved use of raw materials to the recycling of organic waste in the canteen.


Employees, raw materials and resource consumption

We have set ourselves the goal to increase the ratio of women within the company. In 2017 women were 13.3% of Norðurál’s workforce while in 2021 the ratio was 23.5%. This development will continue.


Emissions and waste


Emissions into the air

Use of hazardous chemicals (Xn, T, Tx, C, Xi, E, Fx, F, O, N)

Production and raw material consumption

Carbon emissions


Several years ago, Norðurál decided to develop a product line, Natur-Al™, in response to consumer demand for increased transparency and disclosure. We now supply our customers with aluminum to produce products that enable people to reduce their environmental impact.

It is not enough to tell people that a product is green. Such a statement must be backed up by data, and the whole production process must be traceable. We therefore reviewed the entire production process, from the excavation of bauxite to the customer’s final product, i.e. conducted a life-cycle assessment, of the aluminum produced by the company.


The analysis is based on the aluminum’s cradle-to-gate life cycle, including the production and transportation of raw materials, local emissions of pollutants, and generation of waste, as well as the shipping of the final product to the European market. A model for the entire aluminum value chain was prepared using information from the IAI together with data from Norðurál’s production process. The analysis was carried out in accordance with the ISO standards 4040:2006 and 14044:2006, and the software GaBi from Thinkstep and international data banks were used in its execution. For the analysis, average data across five years of Norðurál’s production process was used when possible in order to get a clear picture of the process.


This work resulted in the trademark Natur-Al™, which is a registered trademark on both sides of the Atlantic. Aluminum under the trademark Natur-Al™ has a carbon footprint that is less than 4 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per ton of aluminum, taking everything into account—from the acquisition of bauxite and processing of aluminum oxide to the aluminum processing and shipping to the buyer. Total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from Natur-Al™ production are less than a quarter of the average emissions from aluminum production around the world, which is approximately 18 tons per ton of aluminum. In China, carbon dioxide volumes reach 20 tons in coal-powered plants.


The life-cycle assessment is carried out by an independent party, and we can provide our customers with all the necessary data to analyze the carbon footprint of consumer products made from Natur-Al™ aluminum.


Norðurál is convinced that the future lies in product development such as this This project also demonstrates the importance of continued development and innovation in sectors such as ours.


Interannual development

Carbon emissions from transport


Norðurál operates in a global market and has partners and customers all over the world. It is unavoidable for Norðurál employees to travel abroad for their work, but the company believes that it is important to keep air travel to a minimum, for example by improving teleconferencing facilities. There was a sharp drop in air travel in 2021 due to the pandemic.

A large proportion of Norðurál’s employees carpool to and from work in company cars. The carpooling significantly reduces the total number of employee car trips to and from work, thereby reducing indirect emissions from Norðurál’s operations. Emissions from carpooling have decreased year on year, due to the introduction of nine electric cars. Additionally, emphasis has been placed on fuel efficiency of cars and improved passenger utilization. These actions have resulted in a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions amounting to 40 tons, or almost 16,000 liters of oil. That is a 19% reduction from 2015.

Emissions from staff carpooling and target of 40% reduction.


Use of materials


We choose our raw materials as carefully as possible to produce a more valuable and environmentally friendly product. CO₂ emissions from aluminum processing are lower in Iceland than in any other country. This result is achieved by quality staff and operational stability, as well as the use of environmentally friendly energy sources. Clear environmental awareness plays a key role at every stage of production, from resource acquisition in remote corners of the world to maximum utilization and recycling of raw materials.

Better utilization


Scrubbers in the Norðurál production area ensure that fluorine can be reused in the production process. More than 99% of the fluorine used for aluminum production is captured in the scrubbers and then used again and again.


Once the anodes have served their purpose, they are shipped to the anode manufacturer in Vlissingen in the Netherlands. There, they are used to produce new anodes to be used in Norðurál’s aluminum production.


The slag from production at Norðurál’s site is processed by our neighbors at Alur in Grundartangi. Alur processes aluminum from the slag, which again is used in Norðurál’s aluminum production.


Recycling and disposal


Norðurál is very committed to reducing waste generation and increasing recycling rates. Waste from Norðurál can be divided roughly into recycled waste, waste to be disposed of in coastal landfills, solid waste for landfills, sewage, and hazardous waste.


Since 2015, emissions from the disposal of general waste have been reduced by approximately 14 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, or about 8%.


Disposals have been reduced by 8% since 2015.

Norðurál promotes increased environmental awareness and staff participation in improvement measures. Norðurál staff receive bonus payments where one of the factors considered is the company’s environmental performance.


In 2021, 80% of the waste generated by Norðurál’s activities was recycled. A major part of that is production waste such as cathode waste and coal dust.


There has also been an increased focus on reducing general waste from areas other than production, and improving the recycling of such waste. For instance, in 2016 the sorting of organic waste from the canteen was launched. The switch from disposable plastic cups to paper cups, together with an emphasis on using reusable drinking cups, is another example of a successful improvement project. In October 2019, a big step was taken when plastic bags for distributing meals from the cafeteria to lunchrooms within the factory were replaced with reusable trays. The idea prompting these improvements was born among the employees participating in project work at Norðurál’s School of Heavy Industry. They figured out that introducing reusable trays could replace 12,500 plastic bags per year.

Sorting stations

There are sorting stations in Norðurál’s canteens and operating areas for plastic, paper, general waste, and, where applicable, hazardous waste. Staff in each area are responsible for emptying these bins at the reception points shown in the overview. The reception points receive the categories of waste from each area. Waste collection staff are responsible for collecting waste from the reception points and transporting it to the company’s waste sorting area. In the waste sorting area, waste is sorted further when appropriate and its volume reduced to minimize transportation.


Norðurál promotes increased environmental awareness and staff participation in improvement measures. Norðurál staff receive bonus payments where one of the factors considered is the company’s environmental performance.


There should be no bins for general waste in the offices or in the production area, as these have all been replaced with sorting stations.


Energy use


Iceland is one of only a few countries that produce practically all their electricity from renewable resources. We use most of this electricity to produce pure aluminum from aluminum oxide, with Iceland accounting for about 2% of the global output. For production in 2021, Norðurál used 4,700 GWh of clean renewable electricity, or about one quarter of all electricity produced in Iceland. Electrical power use per each ton of aluminum produced was 14.8 Mwh/t Al.


Measures to reduce energy use


Norðurál uses 100% renewable electricity for all its production. Until now, our aluminum has been re-smelted in Europe for further processing, using electrical power with a larger carbon footprint. In Norðurál’s new production line, a step has been taken towards a more finished product, with aluminum cylinders being produced. Their production entails no additional emissions, and the energy requirements are much lower than if they were molded overseas. The increase in electricity consumption will be 10 MW, while energy savings are estimated at 40%.


In Norðurál’s environmental action plan, oil consumption of machinery and equipment was the largest part of the whole, and the greatest opportunities lie in energy exchange for machinery and equipment. Over the past few years, fifteen machines including electric tractors and forklifts have been taken into use. The success of these actions is already evident, with further replacements being planned. Between 2015 and 2021, oil and gas consumption of mobile equipment dropped by a total of 103,776 liters, which is equivalent to cutting emissions by 279 tons of carbon dioxide.


Actual emissions from machinery and equipment with a target of 40% reduction.

Water and sewerage


Water supplied to Norðurál comes from the Tunga and Hlíðarfótur springs in Svínadalur.


Fresh water use in 2021 amounted to approximately 177,116 m3. Thereof, drinking water accounted for about 70,847 m3 and industrial water for 106,269 m3. The rectifier cooling system uses 7,884,000 m3 of sea water each year.


Measurements of Norðurál’s sewerage are carried out each quarter, and cooling water measurements are carried out twice a year to monitor water in the area. Verkís carries out quarterly measurements of sewerage for fluoride, aluminum, suspended particles, and oil. Sewerage measurements are carried out by Verkís where the volume of fluoride, suspended particles, oil/grease, and aluminum is measured. Chemical analyses of cooling water are carried out by the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.




The environmental monitoring of the industrial site at Grundartangi includes the study and monitoring of around 100 parameters in and around Hvalfjörður. The purpose is to ensure that industrial activities at Grundartangi do not have a negative environmental impact. Environmental monitoring is carried out by independent bodies responsible for different monitoring aspects. In 2021, research for environmental monitoring was carried out by the laboratory for environmental research at the Marine Freshwater Research Institute, the Veterinarian in Mosfellsbær, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, Matís ohf., the Suðurnes Research Centre of the University of Iceland, the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Iceland, and other independent entities. Over 117 parameters were analyzed in the samples.


The following factors were monitored during the year: air quality (atmosphere and precipitation), fresh water, sea water by coastal landfills, marine biosphere (mussels and sediment), peatlands, vegetation (grass, leaves, and pine needles), and herbivores (sheep and horses).


In 2021, around 813 samples were taken at approximately 143 sampling sites.


The report for 2021 can be found here.

Notifications and deviations


Norðurál’s plant at Grundartangi has an operating license to manufacture up to 350,000 tons of aluminum each year. The operating license is issued by the Environment Agency of Iceland and is valid until December 16, 2031.


In 2021, the Environment Agency conducted two on-site inspections. Monitoring is carried out according to the operating license and measurement schedule.


Reports of on-site inspections can be found on the Environment Agency’s website.


Environmental monitoring around the industrial area at Grundartangi is carried out according to an environmental monitoring schedule that is in effect until 2018 and approved by the Environment Agency of Iceland.


Norðurál also carries out green accounting according to Regulation No 851/2002 and submits audited accounts to the Environment Agency before May 1 each year. Einnig er fært útstreymisbókhald í samræmi við reglugerð nr. 990/2008.


The Environment Agency of Iceland received three notifications in 2021:

  1. Notification of scrubber shutdown due to a fault in a communications unit, for 3 hours and 50 minutes.
  2. Notification of reduced scrubber performance due to a malfunctioning blower.
  3. Notification of high readings for gaseous fluoride at the Kríuvarða measuring station.


Average concentrations of fluoride were measured as being above reference limits in 2021. Other fluoride measurements at Norðurál were within the limits of the operating license, and other air quality measurements were within all regulatory reference limits.


Environmental impact of suppliers


Instead of importing anodes from China, we operate our own anode plant at Vlissingen in the Netherlands. This reduces the negative environmental impact.


Norðurál recruited the engineering firm Efla to carry out a life-cycle assessment of the aluminum produced by the company. The analysis is based on the aluminum’s cradle-to-gate life cycle, including the production and transportation of raw materials, local emissions of pollutants, and generation of waste. The environmental impact of all links in the production chain was assessed and documented. This provides a clear picture of where and how we can implement procurement and design production processes to minimize the environmental impact.


We direct our business to responsible alumina producers. In this process, we have excluded certain producers due to lack of quality and negative environmental impact. Foreign suppliers are subject to the rules and standards of Norðurál’s parent company, Century Aluminum.


Norðurál at Grundartangi became the first aluminum company operating in Iceland to receive the international ASI certification for environmentally friendly and responsible production. The certification confirms that the company’s activities and business practices are socially responsible and outstanding in the area of environmentally friendly production.


The ASI certification extends to 59 factors in the company’s operations, from the acquisition of raw materials around the world to the final product.