The Elements of Innovation Discovered

Canada ushers in carbon-free aluminum

Metal Tech News - July 3, 2024

Rio Tinto partners with Québec to deploy ELYSIS at Arvida smelter, revolutionizing aluminum production by eliminating GHG emissions.

Taking a significant leap in decarbonizing the aluminum industry, Rio Tinto is installing carbon-free smelting cells at its Arvida smelter in Québec. Using the groundbreaking ELYSIS technology, this project is a joint venture with the government of Québec and marks the first commercial deployment of this revolutionary technology.

The production of aluminum is notorious for the enormous amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted during the smelting process. ELYSIS, a revolutionary aluminum smelting technology developed by Rio Tinto and Alcoa – two of the largest aluminum manufacturers – eliminates all direct greenhouse gases from this process and instead produces oxygen as byproduct.

Supported by the governments of Canada and Québec, as well as tech giant Apple, this innovative approach to aluminum manufacturing has already been successfully demonstrated at the ELYSIS Industrial Research and Development Center in Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean.

This process, described as the most significant advancement in the aluminum industry in over a century, could not only reduce environmental impact but also offer economic benefits.

Instead of using carbon anodes, which produce CO2 as a byproduct, ELYSIS utilizes proprietary inert anodes that release pure oxygen.

The technology is expected to lower production costs by 15% and increase output by the same percentage. Additionally, it can be retrofitted to existing smelters or used to construct new facilities, making it versatile and scalable.

As proof of concept, the first deployment of this technology will be built adjacent to the existing Arvida smelter, allowing the use of the current aluminum supply and casting facilities.

Initially, the plant is expected to have a 2,500 metric ton capacity of commercial quality aluminum per year without direct greenhouse gas emissions, with first production targeted by 2027.

"This investment will further strengthen Rio Tinto's industry-leading position in low-carbon, responsible aluminium in North America with our hydro-powered smelters and our recycling capacity," said Rio Tinto Aluminium CEO Jérôme Pécresse. "Becoming the first to deploy the ELYSIS carbon-free smelting technology is the next step in our strategy to decarbonize and grow our Canadian aluminium operations."

While Rio Tinto will design, engineer, and build the demonstration plant which will be equipped with ten pots operating at 100 kiloamperes, the plant will be owned by a new joint venture in which Rio Tinto and the Government of Québec, through Investissement Québec, will invest C$235 million (US$179 million) and C$140 million (US$106 million), respectively, as equity partners, for a total investment of C$375 million (US$285 million).

"ELYSIS is a truly disruptive technology for the industry, and it's thanks to Québec expertise that we are the first in the world to produce GHG-free aluminium," said Pierre Fitzgibbon, Québec Minister of Economy, Innovation and Energy; Minister for Regional Economic Development; and Minister for the Metropolis and the Montréal Region. "This is a technological innovation with unprecedented benefits for our aluminium sector, which remains an undisputed world leader."

François-Philippe Champagne, Canada's Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry also highlighted the national significance of the project.

"Canada has all it takes to be the global green supplier of choice, which is why our government is collaborating with key industry actors like Rio Tinto to produce low carbon aluminium," he said. "Groundbreaking projects such as the ELYSIS smelting technology will ensure Canada remains at the forefront of the economy of tomorrow while also staying focused on its carbon reduction goals."

The joint venture is continuing its research and development program to scale up the ELYSIS technology and has completed the construction of larger prototype 450 kA cells at the end of an existing potline at Rio Tinto's Alma smelter.

ELYSIS has begun commissioning these industrial prototype cells, with the start-up sequence set to begin in 2024.

 

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