Funding Australia’s first low-carbon alumina production trial

The Morrison Government is backing a trial that will investigate using renewable energy to process bauxite into alumina, a key part of the aluminium supply chain.

Alcoa Australia will trial mechanical vapour compression (MVR) technology to electrify the production of steam and heat at its Wagerup plant in Western Australia.

The Morrison Government will provide $11.3 million through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to support the $28.2 million trial. This will be the first time the technology has been used in alumina refining in Australia.

If it proves feasible, the MVR technology could reduce an alumina refinery’s carbon footprint by up to 70 per cent.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said that the Government was committed to investing in technology to maintain and expand Australia’s energy-intensive export industries and the well-paid jobs they provide.

“The Morrison Government will continue to work with businesses and energy-intensive industries to bring down emissions in ways that increase their international competitiveness, and this project is an exciting step in that direction,” Minister Taylor said.

“Through projects like this, we are reducing emissions by investing in technology, not taxes.

“Innovation, not elimination, is the key here.

“This support goes hand-in-hand with the Government’s focus on reducing energy prices to support consumers and energy-intensive businesses like aluminium smelters.

“The Government recently secured the future of the Portland aluminium smelter, which provides more than 500 jobs in Victoria.

“This technology has the potential to be a game-changer for the aluminium industry and could reduce total domestic emissions by up to 1.5 per cent in future.”

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of alumina and accounts for around 15 per cent of global refining capacity. The aluminium industry (including alumina, bauxite and other products) is Australia’s 6th largest export industry by value ($12.7 billion in 2019-20), employing more than 22,000 Australians.

Alumina refining is an energy-intensive process that currently accounts for approximately 20 per cent of Australia’s direct, non-electricity (scope 1) manufacturing emissions, or 11 million tonnes annually.

Under the two-stage project, Alcoa will undertake a feasibility study with a view to installing a 3 megawatt MVR module. The construction phase would create 25 new jobs.

Low emissions aluminium production is a priority under the Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap.

The Government is investing $20 billion in low emissions technology projects like this one, to drive at least $80 billion of total public and private investment by 2030. This investment will create 160,000 jobs, more than half of these in regional areas.

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