Supporting a low emissions future in alumina refining

Joint media release with Member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd

The Morrison Government is funding a study that will investigate the feasibility of using renewable hydrogen instead of natural gas to process alumina, helping to reduce emissions across the aluminium supply chain.

The Government will provide up to $579,786 through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to support a trial being undertaken by Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto’s study will explore the viability of hydrogen-fuelled calcination technology for use at its Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone, Queensland, in a move that could help decarbonise its alumina refining operations. The site currently relies on natural gas to generate the high temperatures needed to turn bauxite into alumina in the calcination process.

Alumina refining accounts for approximately 24 per cent of Australia’s direct, non-electricity (scope 1) manufacturing emissions, or 14 million tonnes annually.

If feasible, the technology has the potential to significantly reduce emissions from the energy-intensive industry and lock in its long-term future.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said the Morrison Government was investing in technologies that support the ongoing growth of Australia’s heavy industries.

“The aluminium industry is a valuable sector of our economy, both in terms of export earnings and as an employer of more than 22,000 Australians,” Minister Taylor said.

“It is our sixth largest export by value, earning $12.7 billion in 2019-20. Australia is also the world’s largest exporter of alumina and accounts for around 15 per cent of global refining capacity.

“Securing the future of industries like this is essential for our long-term economic prosperity.

“That’s why we’re partnering with the private sector and backing the development of low emissions technologies, including hydrogen and low emissions alumina production. Replacing higher-emitting alternatives with cleaner energy sources will reduce the carbon footprint of our energy-intensive industries and enable them to continue operating for decades to come.”

Member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd said it is great news for aluminium jobs in Gladstone.

“Our manufacturing industries are so important to the Australian economy and any reduction in emissions will benefit our communities,” Mr O’Dowd said.

“Australia is a world leader when it comes to the production of aluminium and Gladstone stands out as a great contributor in the field. Research into cleaner energy programs will always be welcome.”

The Government’s support for Rio Tinto’s $1.2 million trial complements ARENA’s recent support for Alcoa’s trial of an alternative technology to electrify the production of steam and heat using renewable energy in the alumina refining process.

Hydrogen and low emissions aluminium production are key priorities under the Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap.

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