Rio Tinto push for green aluminium gets $600,000 government boost

Mining giant Rio Tinto’s push into green aluminium is being backed by the federal government with a $600,000 injection into a trial of technology to help remove emissions from the carbon-intensive production process.

Rio Tinto aluminium Pacific operations managing director Daniel van der Westhuizen said the $1.2 million trial would investigate using green hydrogen, which is produced using renewable energy, in the refining process for alumina.

Alumina is made by refining bauxite. Rio Tinto is investigating how to reduce emissions in the refining process. Credit:Joseph Mayers

“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,” Mr van der Westhuizen said.

Conventional refining of bauxite to produce alumina burns natural gas and accounts for about 20 per cent of the global emissions created by aluminium production. Alumina production in Australia generates 14 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year, or 24 per cent of emissions from manufacturing processes.

Producers around the world are increasingly investing in ways to remove emissions from the carbon-intensive refining and smelting processes. Companies see a significant opportunity for green aluminium should the technology prove commercial.

“We recognise we are on a long road towards reducing emissions across our operations and there is clearly more work to be done. But projects such as this are an important part of helping us get there,” Mr van der Westhuizen said. Rio Tinto has committed to reach net-zero emissions in its operations by 2050.

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said developing low-emissions technology for major industries was crucial for Australia’s long-term economic prosperity. The government’s contribution will come through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

“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,” Mr Taylor said.

ARENA chief executive Darren Miller said the technology had emissions-reduction potential for the global aluminium industry.

“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,” Mr Miller said.

Australian Aluminium Council executive director Marghanita Johnson said as the world’s second-largest producer of alumina outside China, “Australia is uniquely placed to develop low carbon alumina technologies for the world”.

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