Industrial Recycler Opens $20M ‘Green’ Aluminum Plant Near Kalamazoo

Industrial recycling and metals distribution company Schupan & Sons Inc. has opened a new production facility near Kalamazoo that will help meet growing demand for recycled “green” aluminum.

The family-owned, Kalamazoo-based company has invested around $20 million in a new 100,000-square-foot facility located on 10 acres behind the Midlink Business Park, the site of a sprawling former General Motors plant in Comstock Township.

The facility, which features state-of-the-art equipment and should be close to full production near the end of January, will be able to process up to 50 million pounds of aluminum per year, according to Schupan CEO Marc Schupan.

As various industries, particularly automotive, look to recycled aluminum for lightweighting and as a more environmentally friendly option, Schupan sees growth opportunities in the coming years for the material.

“The reason we put the plant in is we know that in the next few years, the demand for (green aluminum) from our consumers is going to be very great,” Schupan recently told Crain’s Grand Rapids Business. “The idea is: We want to be proactive, not reactive, and we already have consumers for the product we’re going to be making that want to buy it.”

Indeed, global production of “green aluminum,” produced either with recycled material or from low-carbon electricity sources, is on the rise to meet growing demand from the automotive, construction and beverage can sectors, as well as from governments setting emission-reduction targets.

Aluminum production is notoriously energy intensive and a “significant source” of carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for about 3% of the world’s direct industrial carbon emissions in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency.

Schupan’s facility will use shredding and sorting technology on aluminum extrusion. Schupan said the company will rely on its trading group that operates throughout the U.S. to source material from the scrap industry. The finished material will be supplied to aluminum billet makers and coil producers.

“There’s a huge difference — and energy difference — between what we call primary aluminum, which takes a lot more energy and power, and secondary aluminum, which is the ability to use scrap and has about 90% energy savings,” Schupan said. “By reusing aluminum, (it) can be used over and over. It’s extremely recyclable.”

The new plant marks Schupan’s eighth facility in the Kalamazoo area. The company has physical operations at 18 facilities in five states, including a Grand Rapids-area beverage recycling plant in Wyoming.

In addition to its Michigan expansion, Schupan also is constructing a new facility in Russellville, Ky., that’s devoted to beverage container recycling. That 125,000-square-foot facility is expected to start production later this year.

Growing Production, Trend

Schupan’s new facility builds on other recent recycled aluminum production activity in Southwest Michigan.

In late 2023, Norwegian aluminum and renewable energy company Norsk Hydro completed a $150 million recycling plant in Cassopolis that will function as the company’s largest producer of Circal, Norsk Hydro’s own brand of recycled aluminum. That plant will produce up to 265 million pounds of recycled aluminum per year.

After successfully pioneering the technology in Europe for several years, Norsk Hydro decided to bring it to the U.S. after witnessing growing demand for environmentally friendly products.

“We are starting to see the trends toward customers wanting more circularity and looking more at the environmental footprint of the products that the consumer can buy at the end,” Eivind Kallevik, executive vice president of Hydro Aluminum Metal, told Crain’s Grand Rapids in late 2023. “So we’ve done this for quite some years in Europe … and then we looked at: How can we introduce this product into the U.S. market?”

Last month, Norsk Hydro also formed a joint venture with Michigan-based recycling firm Padnos to introduce Hydro’s own sorting technology, Hysort, in the U.S. The technology will be installed at a Padnos facility in Grandville with operations slated to begin later this year.

The goal of the 50/50 venture, called Allusort LLC, is for the two companies to help improve the supply chain’s environmental footprint and maximize the use of complex scrap.

Investments from companies like Schupan and Norsk Hydro are what Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto and vice president of mobility initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber, says will be important for the state’s auto industry and broader future.

“Sustainability, clean energy and the new energy economy is really growing,” Stevens said in an interview last month. “It’s part of the auto industry, (and) it’s also growing on its own as an industry, and Michigan’s ability to lead in these technologies which are environmentally friendly, sustainable, focused, and clean energy solutions is really important for Michigan’s future.”