Century Aluminum to build green aluminium smelter in the US with DOE grant

Century Aluminum is among those selected to start award negotiations for up to $500 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act funding to build a new aluminium smelter, the company said on Monday March 25

Its Green Aluminum Smelter project is among 33 projects to receive funding to demonstrate commercial-scale decarbonization solutions to help energy-intensive industries decarbonize their operations under the Industrial Demonstrations Program (IDP).

The IDP will award up to a total of $6 billion in grants.

Chicago-based Century Aluminum plans to build the first new US primary aluminium smelter in 45 years, which, when complete, would double the size of the current US primary aluminium industry, according to the company.

“We are extremely proud that the [US Department of Energy (DOE)] has selected Century’s Green Aluminum Smelter Project to receive such significant support, and we are excited to continue moving this transformational project forward,” Century Aluminum chief executive officer Jesse Gary said.

The project will provide a “tremendous win for the domestic, primary aluminium industry and the broader US economy, strengthening domestic supply chains of critical materials, protecting our national security interests and building a more sustainable future for generations to come,” Gary said.

The company expects to build the new smelter at a site within the Ohio/Mississippi River Basins.

This would potentially change the game for aluminium production in the US, according to the clean industry advocacy group, Industrious Labs.

“Aluminum is such an essential part of the clean energy transition. Without it, we won’t have a critical metal to make our solar panels, [electric vehicles (EVs)], batteries and more. The problem is, the industry is in a freefall thanks to high energy costs tied to expensive coal power plants,” Annie Sartor, Aluminum Campaign Director at Industrious Labs, said in a statement.

There are only four primary aluminium smelters left in the US after the curtailment of the Magnitude 7 smelter in Missouri in late January.

These are Alcoa’s smelters in Massena, New York and Warrick, Indiana, and Century Aluminum’s smelters in Mt Holly, South Carolina and Seebree, Kentucky.

Century idled its Hawesville smelter in Kentucky in July 2022 due to soaring energy prices.

The company also curtailed operations at its Mt Holly smelter in South Carolina in 2021, after its power agreement with the local power authority ran out. It renewed its contract with the South Carolina Public Service Authority (Santee Cooper) in October 2023, allowing Century to maintain operations at current capacity.

“There is so much that needs to be done to support aluminium production in the US, especially the need for low-cost clean energy, and a new smelter powered by clean electricity would be a crucial first step to establishing a domestic supply of low-carbon aluminium,” Sartor added.

The DOE announced in March 2023 that its IDP would “fund projects that focus on the highest emitting and hardest to abate industries where decarbonization technologies can have the greatest impact: iron and steel, cement and concrete, chemicals and refining, food and beverage, paper and forest products, aluminium, other energy-intensive manufacturing industries and cross-cutting technologies.”

Of the 411 concept papers the DOE reviewed for the grants, 17 were from the aluminium industry requesting $2.6 billion in federal funds and proposing $2.8 billion in non-federal cost share, according to the department.

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