Jun 16, 2021

Rio Tinto partners with ARENA for green hydrogen research

Rio Tinto
Hydrogen
Green Energy
Sustainability
3 min
Rio Tinto and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) will study using hydrogen to reduce carbon emissions in alumina refining

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.

 

Rio Tinto Yarwun aerial

 

               

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Jun 30, 2021

Rio Tinto and Alcoa begin construction with ELYSIS tech

Rio Tinto
ELYSIS
Decarbonisation
Alcoa
3 min
ELYSIS
Rio Tinto and Alcoa’s JV project ELYSIS has the potential to transform the aluminium industry, with a significant reduction in its carbon footprint

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.”

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