Rio Tinto to install zero-carbon smelting technology ELYSIS at demonstration plant in Quebec

Rio Tinto will install carbon-free aluminium smelting cells at its Arvida smelter in Quebec, Canada, using the first technology license issued by ELYSIS, the company announced on Friday June 28

Rio Tinto will design, engineer and build a demonstration plant with 10 pots operating at 100 kiloamperes (kA) adjacent to the company’s existing Arvida smelter, which will allow for the use of the current alumina supply and casting facilities at Arvida.

The new plant will be owned by a joint venture between Rio Tinto and the Government of Quebec, through Investissement Québec, which has also been supporting ELYSIS alongside technology giant Apple.

ELYSIS is a joint venture between Alcoa and Rio Tinto that has developed a technology to replace carbon anodes in the aluminium smelting process.

Alumina smelting using carbon anodes produces carbon dioxide as a by-product while turning alumina (aluminium oxide) into aluminium.

ELYSIS replaces these carbon anodes with inert anodes to produce oxygen and aluminium as a result of the smelting process, eliminating all direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the traditional process.

ELYSIS has achieved further progress with Rio Tinto’s plans to launch the first industrial-scale demonstration of the breakthrough technology, Alcoa said in a statement.

The joint venture between Alcoa and Rio Tinto is continuing its research and development program to scale up the ELYSIS technology. Construction of larger prototype 450 kA cells is completed, and commissioning of these industrial prototype cells has begun, with the start-up sequence set to begin in 2024.

Both Alcoa and Rio Tinto anticipate that the investment will help in the development of ELYSIS and in developing the companies’ expertise in its installation and operation toward full-scale industrialization of the ELYSIS technology.

Rio Tinto expects the plant to have the capacity to produce up to 2,500 tonnes per year of commercial quality aluminium without direct GHG emissions, with first production targeted by 2027.

Alcoa will have the option to purchase up to 40% of the metal produced over the first four years from the Arvida demonstration plant through an offtake agreement.

“This investment will further strengthen Rio Tinto’s industry-leading position in low-carbon, responsible aluminium in North America with our hydro-powered smelters and our recycling capacity,” Rio Tinto aluminium chief executive Jérôme Pécresse said.

Both Alcoa and Rio Tinto have proprietary low-carbon aluminium brands, Sustana EcoLum and RenewAl, respectively.

Demand for low-carbon aluminium in the US is being led by the automotive, packaging, and wire and cable industries.

Fastmarkets launched its US low-carbon aluminium differentials in November 2023 to meet market demand for a low-carbon aluminium pricing mechanism and to bring transparency to the market.

Fastmarkets assessed both the aluminium low-carbon differential P1020A, US Midwest and the aluminium low-carbon differential value-added product, US Midwest at zero on Friday June 28, with low-carbon units trading at parity with high-carbon units.

Follow discussions around decarbonizing the aluminium industry with the latest price trends, market insights and forecasts. Find out more.

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