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C$1.4bn smelter upgrade Rio Tinto's biggest aluminium investment in more than a decade

12th June 2023

By: Mariaan Webb

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

     

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Diversified major Rio Tinto on Monday announced a C$1.4-billion expansion of its AP60 aluminium smelter at the Complexe Jonquière, in Quebec – its most significant investment in its aluminium business in more than a decade.

The expansion will add 96 new AP60 pots, increasing capacity by about 160 000 t/y of primary aluminium, enough for 400 000 electric cars. As a result, there will be a total of 134 AP60 pots and a capacity of about 220 000 t/y.

Construction will run over two-and-a-half years, with commissioning of the new pots expected to start in the first half of 2026 and the smelter to be fully ramped up by the end of 2026.

Once completed, the expanded smelter is expected to be in the first quartile of the industry cost curve.

This new capacity will offset the 170 000 t of capacity lost through the gradual closure of potrooms at the Arvida smelter on the same site from 2024.

In addition, Rio will add 30 000 t of new capacity through the commissioning of the previously announced recycling facility at Arvida in the first quarter of 2025. These facilities will ensure Rio’s casting facilities at Complexe Jonquière continue to provide value-added products that meet customers’ needs, including integrating recycled post-consumer aluminium into primary aluminium alloys.

The AP60 smelting technology was developed by Rio Tinto’s research and development teams and is among the most efficient and lowest carbon technology currently available at commercial scale.

“Our AP60 technology is already proven and producing some of the lowest carbon aluminium in the world, thanks to the expertise of our highly qualified workforce and access to renewable hydropower,” commented Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm.

Quebec Premier François Legault described the investment as a “great moment” for building the province’s green economy. He added that the expansion would breathe new life into the aluminium industry.

“The use of AP60 pots will halve greenhouse gas emissions in aluminium production. With the upcoming ELYSIS technology, Quebec aims to become the world champion of green aluminium.”

In addition to this investment in low-carbon aluminium, Rio is working with the governments of Canada and Quebec towards a deployment of the ELYSIS zero carbon aluminium smelting technology at its Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean facilities.

With the current development pathway, ELYSIS aims to have its technology available for installation from 2024 and the production of larger volumes of carbon-free aluminium approximately two years later.

Rio and the government of Canada have also signed a memorandum of understanding that deepens their commitment to strengthen supply chains for low-carbon primary metals, critical minerals and other value-added products. The cooperation will also aim to support projects that have the potential to grow Rio’s activities in Canada, including the current and future decarbonisation of the aluminium supply chain.

The investment in the AP60 smelter is already included as replacement capital expenditure (capex) in Rio Tinto’s capital investment guidance for 2023 to 2025. The group’s capex guidance of $9-billion to $10-billion in both 2024 and 2025 remains unchanged.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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