Rio Tinto: next gen giga-casting alloys for EVs and 5G
Rio Tinto has announced a partnership with Comptech, a R&D focused supplier of know-how and equipment for aluminium semi-solid castings, to bring a new generation of aluminium alloys to the market for use in advanced technologies such as electric vehicles and 5G antennas.
Rio Tinto’s metallurgical experts have designed the alloys for the semi-solid Rheocasting process offered by Comptech, to meet the requirements of producing large, specialised single piece designs, known as giga-casting.
The alloys offer high strength, electrical and thermal conductivity properties, while Rheocasting allows fast, low cost production of advanced lightweight designs. The products are currently undergoing qualification with automakers in Europe.
Rio Tinto vice president Sales and Marketing Aluminium Tolga Egrilmezer commented: “Through this partnership, we are delivering a new range of specialised alloys designed to deliver high performance, lower cost solutions for advanced applications like electric vehicles and 5G antennas.
“This is an area of emerging demand where our industry leading research and development capability allows us to deliver products that meet the specific needs of manufacturers and end customers.”
Comptech Group CEO and owner Per Jansson said: “We are in the capacity ramp up for the next generation of advanced technologies across sectors such as automotive and communications, and our customers, both foundries and OEM´s will need the development of more advanced parts. This partnership positions us to offer customers the combined advantages of our casting process expertise and Rio Tinto’s technical strength and preferred alloys suite.”
Rheocasting is an emerging semi solid casting process that allows the production of low-cost aluminium components with high strength, extremely low porosity and a broad range of possible alloys. Comptech has seen a breakthrough in uptake of the process over recent years, with orders for high volume deliveries to the automotive industry as well as supplying equipment supported with technical expertise.
The Rheocasting process is ideally suited to giga-castings for electric vehicles, where a single large aluminium part is produced to significantly reduce the number of components, weight and assembly time and cost. It also offers significant advantages in the production of 5G antennas, where a single large aluminium housing can deliver high thermal conductivity and sealing features with reduced manufacturing, installation and maintenance cost.
Rio Tinto is an industry leader in responsible aluminium production. In 2016, Rio Tinto launched RenewAl, the world’s first certified low CO2 primary aluminium brand. It has helped to pioneer responsible production standards for the global industry as a founding member of the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI), becoming the first producer to offer ASI Aluminium in 2018. Earlier this year, Rio Tinto also launched START, the first sustainability label for aluminium delivered to customers through blockchain technology, enabling them to differentiate between end products based on their environmental, social and governance credentials.
Rio Tinto partners with ARENA for green hydrogen research
Rio Tinto has partnered with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to study whether hydrogen can replace natural gas in alumina refineries to reduce emissions.
Rio Tinto and ARENA partnering for green energy push
Rio Tinto will conduct a $1.2mn feasibility study, equally funded with ARENA through a $580,000 grant, into using clean hydrogen to replace natural gas in the calcination process of refining at the Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone.
The study program includes work to be done at Rio Tinto’s Bundoora Technical Development Centre in Melbourne, where Rio Tinto’s in-house development capability has now been extended to hydrogen.
ARENA CEO Darren Miller commented: “If we can replace fossil fuels with clean hydrogen in the refining process for alumina, this will reduce emissions in the energy and emissions intensive refining stage of the aluminium supply chain. Exploring these new clean energy technologies and methods is a crucial step towards producing green aluminium.
“This study will investigate a potential technology that can contribute to the decarbonisation of the Australian alumina industry. If successful, the technical and commercial lessons from Rio Tinto’s study could lead to the implementation of hydrogen calcination technology, not only in Australia, but also internationally.”
Rio Tinto Aluminium Pacific Operations acting managing director Daniel van der Westhuizen added: “We see the ARENA and Rio Tinto-funded study as a step towards reducing refinery emissions and one that has the potential to play an important part in Rio Tinto’s commitment to decarbonisation.
“We’re investing in work that needs to be done, not only to decarbonise one of our sites, but also to help provide a lower-emissions pathway for Rio Tinto and the global aluminium industry.
“We recognise we are on a long road towards reducing emissions across our operations and there is clearly more work to be done. But projects such as this are an important part of helping us get there.”
Can hydrogen replace natural gas in alumina refineries?
The study comprises two distinct work packages:
- Preliminary engineering and design study conducted to understand the construction and operational requirements of a potential demonstration project at the Yarwun alumina refinery.
- Simulating the calcination process using a lab scale reactor at the Bundoora Technical Development Centre.
Once complete, the study will inform the viability of a potential demonstration project. Rio Tinto has lodged patents for the hydrogen calcination process.
Rio Tinto aiming for net zero by 2050
Rio Tinto is aiming to reach net zero emissions across its operations by 2050. Across the company, it is targeting a 15% reduction in absolute emissions and a 30% reduction in emissions intensity by 2030, from a 2018 baseline.
Aluminium is found in everything from cars to phones. But one of the challenges of producing this essential material responsibly is finding ways to decarbonise the process.
Part of the reason is creating alumina – the main ingredient in aluminium – takes a lot of energy, which in turn creates greenhouse gas emissions. New technologies will be essential to helping reduce emissions, but many haven’t been proven. And some not yet even discovered. Rio Tinto's transformation is being driven by innovation and its partnership with ARENA is a positive step towards these goals.