PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Mining major Rio Tinto has teamed up with aluminium producer Alcoa to develop the world’s first carbon-free aluminium smelting process.
The new process will produce oxygen and replace all direct greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions from the traditional aluminium smelting process.
The two companies have launched a new joint venture (JV), dubbed Elysis, to advance larger scale development and commercialisation of the new process, with a technology package planned for sale at the start of 2024.
The JV partners, the Canadian government, the government of Quebec and IT major Apple have agreed to provide a combined C$188-million for the development of this technology, with Apple to help facilitate the collaboration between Alcoa and Rio on the carbon-free smelting process, and to provide technical support to the JV partners.
"This is a revolutionary smelting process that can deliver a significant reduction in carbon emissions. It builds on the key role aluminium has to play in driving human progress, by making products infinitely recyclable, stronger, lighter and more fuel efficient,” said Rio CEO Jean-Sebastian Jacques.
“Rio Tinto is proud to work with Alcoa, Apple and the governments of Canada and Quebec, to drive an innovation that can transform the industry and our customers' supply chains.”
Canada and Quebec are each investing C$60-million in Elysis, with the provincial government of Quebec holding a 3.5% equity stake in the JV, while the remaining ownership is split evenly between Alcoa and Rio.
Apple is providing an investment of C$13-million, with Rio and Alcoa investing C$55-million cash over the next three years and contribute specific intellectual property and patents.
Elysis, which will be headquartered in Montreal with a research facility in Quebec's Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, will develop and license the technology so it can be used to retrofit existing smelters or build new facilities.
When fully developed and implemented, it will eliminate direct GHG emissions from the smelting process and strengthen the closely integrated Canada-US aluminium and manufacturing industry. The new JV company will also sell proprietary anode and cathode materials, which will last more than 30 times longer than traditional components.
The patent-protected technology, developed by Alcoa, is currently producing metal at the Alcoa Technical Center, near Pittsburgh in the US, where the process has been operating at different scales since 2009. The JV intends to invest up to C$40-million in the US, which will include funding to support the supply chain for the proprietary anode and cathode materials.
"This discovery has been a long-sought goal for the aluminium industry, and this announcement is the culmination of the work from many dedicated Alcoa employees,” said Alcoa CEO and president Roy Harvey.
“Our history of innovation continues as we take aluminium’s sustainable advantage to a new level with the potential to improve the carbon footprint of a range of products from cars to consumer electronics."