Anglo-Australian metals miner Rio Tinto Group has joined with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) in a A$1.2-million study to determine the possibilities of replacing natural gas with hydrogen at alumina refineries.
Rio Tinto says it will conduct the study at the Yarwun alumina refinery at Gladstone. Work will also be carried out at Rio Tinto’s Bundoora Technical Development Centre, where the firm’s in-house team is now established to collect data on a possible hydrogen transition.
ARENA CEO Darren Miller said in a press release that the project is a next step toward more sustainable aluminium.
“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,” he concluded. “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.”
The two-part study includes a preliminary engineering design study to determine what a demonstration project would require to be installed at Yarwun. The second part would involve establishing a lab-sized reactor at Bundoora Technical Development Centre in Melbourne.
“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,” explained Rio Tinto Aluminium Pacific Operations acting managing director Daniel van der Westhuizen.
“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,” van der Westhuizen continued. “But projects such as this are an important part of helping us get there.”
Rio Tinto has set for itself a goal of zero emissions by mid-century. It aims for a 15-percent cut in absolute emissions and a 30-percent cut in emissions intensity by the end of this decade.