Rio Tinto and Sumitomo Look to Incorporate Green Hydrogen into Alumina Refining

  • Rio Tinto and Sumitomo Corporation join forces to establish a pioneering hydrogen plant in Gladstone, aiming to reduce carbon emissions from alumina refining
  • The venture, co-funded by Australia’s Renewable Energy Agency, will test the viability of using hydrogen in the calcination process of alumina production.
  • Upon success, the initiative could potentially be implemented at scale globally, substantially lowering CO2 emissions in the aluminium sector.

    In a bid to lessen carbon emissions in the alumina refining process, multinational firms Rio Tinto and Sumitomo Corporation have announced plans to construct a first-of-its-kind hydrogen plant in Gladstone. The plant, part of an A$111.1 million program, will test the feasibility of using hydrogen in the calcination process.

    The Yarwun Hydrogen Calcination Pilot Demonstration Program has secured the necessary approvals after an A$32.1 million co-funding grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). It focuses on assessing the use of hydrogen in the calcination process, where hydrated alumina is heated to temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. 

    The planned works include the construction of a hydrogen plant at the refinery and the retrofitting of refinery processing equipment. Rio Tinto and Sumitomo hope that the program’s success could potentially drive global adoption of the technology.

    Construction of a 2.5MW on-site electrolyser and retrofitting one of Yarwun’s four calciners form part of the program. The aim is to facilitate operation at times with a hydrogen burner. The retrofit is projected to yield about 6,000 tonnes of alumina per year while decreasing Yarwun’s CO2 emissions by about 3,000 tonnes annually.

    If the entire plant is converted to utilise green hydrogen, it could reduce emissions by 500,000 tonnes per year, equating to taking roughly 109,000 internal combustion engine cars off the road.

    “Demonstrating real-world applications of hydrogen in industrial settings with motivated partners is essential to reducing carbon emissions and working toward our company’s vision of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Through this demonstration, Sumitomo Corporation aims to venture into the commercialisation project to contribute to Rio Tinto’s decarbonisation.”

    Seiji Kitajima, Sumitomo Corporation Energy Innovation Initiative Director

    The electrolyser, owned and operated by Sumitomo, will supply hydrogen directly to Rio Tinto and is expected to have an annual production capacity exceeding 250 tonnes. Construction of the plant is set to commence in 2024, with operations expected to start the following year.

    This initiative follows the successful completion of an A$1.2 million feasibility study co-funded by Rio Tinto and ARENA, announced in 2021. It aligns with Rio Tinto’s commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and targets to reduce Scope 1 & 2 emissions by 50% by 2030 from 2018 levels.

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