Aluminium: the challenges of a promising “luxury and environment” response

Aluminium has a lot going for it. Because it is infinitely recyclable, it is part of the circularity process, in particular with its robust collection and recycling chain – at least in Europe – which helps reduce the product carbon footprint. Its cool feel, durability over time, and decoration capabilities make it an ideal material for premiumisation! Still, a number of challenges remain.

The potential of recycled aluminium

The introduction of recycled aluminium still raises a number of constraints. This post-consumer-(PCR)-based material suffers from a lack of aesthetic quality, in particular of shine, a key factor in the luxury world.

Despite this, g.pivaudran managed to meet Chanel’s requirements with the Volume mascara, which features between 10% and 20% of PCR, depending on the model.

It was a crucial step for us. PCR is important, because customers want it. Today, we work with different percentages of PCR, from shiny to matte. We estimate the limit between 18% and 20% to get a nice matte aspect, and between 8% and 10% to get a nice shine, and still comply with customers’ specifications”, explains Hervé Delaigue, Sales and Development Director.

According to him, this approach requires implementing secure and optimum supply. “We are moving forward in this field, and we are trying to broaden our panel of suppliers to get additional proposals”, he adds, while revealing he is working on other sustainable innovation areas in connection with aluminium.

An expert in prestige packaging for the beauty sector, manufacturer Tesem has just unveiled the BRI&Va innovation, a patent-pending technology which removes the aesthetic barrier of shiny aluminium. By combining two technologies, BRI&Va (for Brightening Value) will make PCR recycled aluminium shine in the same way as anodised virgin aluminium, and maintain this shine over time.

This aluminium technology does not exist on the market right now, and it makes it possible to obtain all the colours of anodised aluminium. Chanel has already showed interest in BRI&VA. The brand has been working with our team to be able to use it”, says Patrick Bousquel, Sales and Marketing Director.

Pochet, via its subsidiary Qualipac, is also considering using post-consumer aluminium. The group is currently testing several products incorporating 8% to 30% of PCR, but still has a preference for the concept based on PIR (Post Industrial Recycled) aluminium derived from its own remnants in order to get around the aesthetic drawback.

In our industry, it is still complex to use aluminium with high proportions of recycled material to achieve the aesthetics we are used to for shiny parts. One of the avenues we have been studying consists in making even greater use of our remnants. If we degrease them, and then compact them to send them back to our supplier, who integrates them into a casting specially intended for us, we will be able to maintain the quality required on our market”, says Nicolas Piffault, CSR Director of the Group.

Tesem has adopted the same approach. “For luxury brands, we follow the ‘close the loop’ process, which involves remnants from the purest die-stamped aluminium with identified quality, which we recover and reuse. Going from bauxite to aluminium consumes a lot of energy. When you only need recasting, you cut CO2 emissions by three, and with this material, everything is equally possible in terms of quality”, claims Patrick Bousquel.

The low-carbon path

For Patrick Bousquel, the polarisation of the market towards much more luxurious products incorporating aluminium with engraving, texturing, and a shiny effect actually requires working in parallel with a low-carbon material.

With low-carbon aluminium, we go from 6.4 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of aluminium to 1.9 per tonne. The impact of aluminium is reduced by three, which appeals to brands for their new projects. We need to look ahead to 2030, with decarbonised, recyclable, or refillable products,” he continues.

All players view this standardised aluminium produced with green energy and/or 100% recycled energy as a sourcing of interest.

Purchasing low-carbon aluminium offers better results in terms of CO2 balance. Many companies have been considering this solution, because it has more impact, environmentally speaking,” stresses Hervé Delaigue for g.pivaudran.

The mono-material challenge

For its part, Axilone highlights the challenge of all-aluminium design, which makes recycling easier. This supplier began by developing a range of lipsticks fully made of aluminium, including the mechanisms, in different diameters, from mini sticks to big ones, for different applications, and compatible with several customisation and decoration techniques (anodising, lacquering, embossing, printing, etc.). The range was then extended to compact powders, mascaras, and skincare and perfume caps.

We have extended this full aluminium range to all makeup segments, but also to all beauty segments, with perfume and skincare closing solutions. We aim to continue to broaden our offering,” says Lucie Ray-Lalanne, Marketing and Communications Director.

In the same way, the Pochet group has been working on using aluminium as an alternative to plastic parts in all categories, in particular skincare, as illustrated by the development of Chanel’s new Sublimage with an aluminium cup, cap, and overcap.

Die-cast and cold-forged aluminium

However, with its low density, aluminium struggles to match the weight inherent to the codes of luxury, in particular for perfume caps. To overcome this difficulty, suppliers have been working on other techniques.

Cold forging makes it possible to consider thicker parts and different geometries.

“Historically, we have mainly used the aluminium die-stamping process, but it limits the thickness and geometry of the parts. Therefore, we have been examining new processes, in particular cold forging and die-cast aluminium, which is still very little used in beauty, to look at how to offer parts that would serve as alternatives to Zamak”, says Mélina Weinman, Marketing and Innovation Director for the Pochet group. “It is a very important area for R&D innovation, because this material is going to grow in importance over the next few years. We have already introduced die-cast aluminium caps and cold forging parts”, she adds.

At Axilone, for whom the main area of innovation is to “go further in the complexity of shapes and premium rendering”, cold forging is also a solution worth exploring.

We have very positive results with aluminium cold forging. It helps obtain simple to complex shapes, as well as a gold appearance, when anodised rather than galvanised, as is the case with Zamak”, explains Reynald Trochel, Axilone’s Innovation Director. “The use of aluminium as a replacement for historically used materials poses a number of technical challenges, because it does not have the same mechanical characteristics as plastic, in particular in terms of sealing, elasticity, and friction. As a result, we have to work on designs and processes to offer the same functions as multi-material packs.”

It seems clear that there is no perfect solution, so industry players are working on the best compromises. One thing is certain, however: innovation and the multiplication of solutions help move in the right direction.

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