Australia could emerge as a leader in net-zero alumina refining worldwide if it obeys a plan developed by three major producers, Alcoa, Rio Tinto, and South 32. Together, the three organisations have developed a detailed road map that ensures net zero emissions by 2050.
The report was published by the Federal Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) on November 22. Australia exports the most considerable quantity of alumina in the world and also produces ample bauxite. Refining activities in Australia cause up to 3% of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions.
With the rising need for cleaner and greener aluminium in the western market, Australia has to think of other alternatives to make its products acceptable in the electronics or automobile sector. This calls for newer advanced refining and smelting technologies or an alternative that could change the process altogether.
But refineries in Australia now use fossil fuels which result in 95 per cent of their hazardous gas emissions. This is also energy extensive as it consumes 221 petajoules of energy each year, equivalent to the energy needed to power the whole of Tasmania.
The ARENA report claims that low-cost wind and solar energy and specific regional expertise have the ability to morph the sector into something that saves energy. Australia's resource-intensive economy has only one difficulty that it needs to face, the decarbonisation of all its amenities.
The CEO of ARENA, Darren Miller, exclaimed: "Alumina refining has always been considered a hard-to-abate sector with significant barriers to reducing emission."
"Now, we have Australia's biggest alumina producers coming together with ARENA to develop a clear and credible pathway to reducing emissions in the industry," Miller added.
The report also asserted that green premiums paid for low-carbon alumina are on the rise, yet they are not enough to support the installation of new technologies without any aid from the Government. An alteration to the safeguard mechanism that looks after industrial emissions is currently under scrutiny and can be considered another hurdle.
The report locates four prime decarbonisation techniques that could enable units to run on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels and lower emissions by 98 per cent in Australia's six alumina refineries.
"What we need now is coordinated investment to accelerate the commercialisation of these technologies," Mr Miller went on to build a case.
Some of the methods have been enlisted in the report, like fast-tracking electric boilers and a process called mechanical vapour recompression, which could result in emissions reductions from 2027. And for the upcoming ten years, Australia can develop green hydrogen and electric calcination technologies.
The country could use the latest electric calcination technology that captures steam energy prevailing in the atmosphere to be reused on a broader scale diminishing the need for stream water.
ARENA is an existing patron for the Australian mining and alumina industry to explore new technologies. It has been overseeing Alcoa's trails at the WA refineries and Rio Tinto's feasibility study at its Yarwun refinery, situated in Gladstone.
Out of the six Australian refineries, four are located in the Western region and thus are connected with the state's electric grid, while the Queensland refineries are related to the national electricity market.
The Gladstone hydrogen hub, popularly known as the renewable energy zone, brings hope to Australia's carbon-free future, and the Yarwun and Queensland Alumina Limited are situated under its scope. Also, WA's Kwinana refinery is nearby to a proposed hydrogen hub.
Yet the net zero by 2050 target is at risk in Australia. Access to clean energy, transformation to hydrogen fuel, and smooth energy transmission would all be difficult milestones to achieve.