Rio Tinto goes solar at Weipa mine in Australia
Rio Tinto and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) have commenced the Weipa Solar Plant in northern Queensland to generate electricity for its remote Weipa bauxite mine, processing facilities and associated township.
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The two phase project will see the Weipa Solar Plant generate up to 2,800 megawatts of electricity annually, including supplying 20 percent of the town’s daytime electricity demand. This is the first time a commercial diesel displacement PV system has supplied power to a remote Australian mining operation on such a scale.
"We expect the energy from the solar plant will help reduce the diesel usage at Weipa's power stations and save up to 600,000 liters of diesel each year," said Rio Tinto Weipa Operations general manager Gareth Manderson.
"This will reduce Weipa's greenhouse gas emissions by around 1600 tons per year - equivalent to removing around 700 cars."
ARENA is funding the project, providing an initial $3.5 million on the first phase with an additional $7.8 million for the second phase. Rio Tinto will purchase the power from the project under a 15-year power purchase agreement.
“This power purchase arrangement is an opportunity to trial the introduction of an alternative power source such as a solar plant into a remote electrical network like the one here in Weipa,” said Manderson.
The solar technology, which is developed by US-based First Solar, involves 18,000 photovoltaic (PV) modules in combination with the company’s FuelSmart micro-grid integration technology to convert light from the sun directly into power.
“It is already widely acknowledged that solar electricity is typically cheaper than diesel-powered electricity, particularly in remote locations,” said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s Regional Manager for Asia Pacific. “The significance of the Weipa Solar Plant is that it provides the opportunity to demonstrate that PV-diesel hybrid projects can also be as reliable as stand-alone diesel-powered generation.”
According to Curtis, the next 12 months are "critical" to gather data from the project in order to accelerate the adoption of solar power at remote mine sites.
"We're seeing the initial interest but like most things in this industry, [mining companies] really want to see something deployed and in doing that with this project with Rio I think it's going to be quite industry-changing in that respect,” said Curtis.
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“Proving this commercial model has the potential to be a watershed moment for the diesel hybrid application globally.”
The first phase of the project is expected to run for nine to 12 months before implementing the proposed second phase, which will increase capacity to five megawatts and include an electricity storage system.
Rio Tinto and Alcoa begin construction with ELYSIS tech
Eliminating all direct greenhouse gases from aluminium smelting has taken a major step forward with the start of construction on the first commercial-scale prototype cells of ELYSIS’ inert anode technology, at Rio Tinto’s Alma smelter in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec.
ELYSIS has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of aluminium production
ELYSIS is a joint venture company led by Rio Tinto and Alcoa that is developing a new breakthrough technology, known as inert anode, that eliminates all direct greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the traditional smelting process and instead produces oxygen.
The technology has the potential to transform the aluminium industry, with a significant reduction in its carbon footprint.
The inert anode prototype cells will operate on a commercial scale typical for large modern aluminium smelters, using an electrical current of 450 kiloamperes (kA).
The Honourable Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry joined representatives from ELYSIS, Rio Tinto and Alcoa to mark the start of construction and announce a further CAD $20mn financial contribution from the Government of Canada to support the project.
The federal government's financial support will enable the creation of a unique commercial size inert anode technology showroom for future customers and will help develop the supply chain by involving local and regional equipment manufacturers and suppliers in the project.
ELYSIS is working to complete the technology demonstration by 2024 followed by the commercialization activities.
ELYSIS technology at a glance:
- The ELYSIS technology addresses the global trend towards producing low carbon footprint products, from mobile phones to cars, planes and building materials.
- The new process will reduce operating costs ofaluminiumsmelters while increasing production capacity. It could be used in both new and existing aluminium smelters.
- In Canada alone, the ELYSIS technology has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 7 million tons, the equivalent of removing 1.8 million cars from the roads.
- ELYSIS will also sell next-generation anode and cathode materials, which will last more than 30 times longer than traditional components.
Alcoa and Rio Tinto will continue to support the ELYSIS development program alongside the Governments of Canada and Quebec.
ELYSIS is working closely with Alcoa's Technical Center, where the zero-carbon smelting technology was invented, and the Rio Tinto technology design team in France.
Alcoa's Technical Center supports ELYSIS in the manufacture of proprietary materials for the new anodes and cathodes that are essential to the ELYSIS process. The Rio Tinto technology team in France is creating commercial scale designs for the ELYSIS technology.
Vincent Christ, CEO, ELYSIS commented: “This is a great day for ELYSIS. It means that we are becoming the first technology company in the world to build commercial-size inert anode cells. While we refine the technology in our R&D Centre, we start the construction of our prototype cells. This shows our confidence in our process and in the know-how of our team. The combination of ELYSIS' zero CO2 technology and Quebec's renewable energy will be great competitive advantage for the future. I would like to thank the government for its support and all the partners for their commitment.”
Samir Cairae, Rio Tinto Aluminium managing director Atlantic Operations and ELYSIS board member added: “Today marks a real step towards the future of the aluminium industry, by progressing this breakthrough technology to cut carbon emissions. Rio Tinto is committed to supporting its ongoing development here in Quebec where we already use clean hydropower to deliver some of the world’s lowest carbon aluminium. Combining this technology with renewable hydropower holds the promise of zero carbon aluminium smelting.”