Abstract The aluminum energy conversion processes have been characterized to be carbon-free and sustainable. However, their applications are restrained by aluminum production capacity as aluminum is never found as a free metal on the earth. This study gives an assessment of typical aluminum-based energy processes in terms of overall energy efficiency and cost. Moreover, characteristics associated with different processes are identified. Results in this study indicate the route from which aluminum is produced can be a key factor in determining the efficiency and costs. Besides, the aluminum–air battery provides a more energy-efficient manner for the conversion of energy stored in primary aluminum and recovered aluminum from products compared to aluminum-based hydrogen production, whereas the aluminum-based hydrogen production gives a more energy-efficient way of utilizing energy stored in secondary aluminum or even scrap aluminum.