Rio Tinto to build hydrogen plant with Sumitomo for Yarwun alumina refinery aiming to curb carbon emissions

AL Circle

According to a report on Wednesday, July 12, Rio Tinto, an Anglo-Australian metals and mining group, will build a pilot hydrogen plant in Gladstone and retrofit an alumina refinery to replace natural gas use with clean hydrogen for the alumina refining process. It will be done with the help of Sumitomo Corporation, a leading Fortune 500 global trading and business investment company.

Rio Tinto to build hydrogen plant with Sumitomo for Yarwun alumina refinery aiming to reduce carbon emissions


The project is part of an A$111.1 million Yarwun Hydrogen Calcination Pilot Demonstration Program to reduce carbon emissions from alumina processing. Rio and Sumitomo will build a 2.5 MW on-site electrolyser to supply hydrogen to the Yarwun refinery in Gladstone, Queensland, and install modified equipment at one of Yarwun’s four calciners to enable it to operate with a hydrogen burner.

 The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), on behalf of the Australian Government, has already announced the funding of A$32.1 million to Rio and Sumitomo to trial the use of hydrogen in the calcination process, where hydrated alumina is heated up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.

If the trial is successful, it will reduce carbon emissions by about 3,000 tonnes per year while producing about 6,000 tonnes of alumina.

Rio Tinto Aluminium Pacific Operations Managing Director Armando Torres said, “This pilot plant is an important step in testing whether hydrogen can replace natural gas in Queensland alumina refineries. At Rio Tinto, we have put the energy transition at the heart of our business strategy, and this is one of the ways we’re working towards decarbonising our operations. We are proud to be developing this new technology here in Gladstone, in partnership with Sumitomo Corporation, and with support from ARENA.”

If the entire refinery is converted to green hydrogen, then it will emit 500,000 tonnes per year lower carbon dioxide.

The construction of the pilot hydrogen plant will start in 2024 and is expected to commence operation by 2025.

Sustainability in the Global Aluminium Industry

Sumitomo will own and operate the electrolyser at Yarwun site and supply hydrogen directly to Rio Tinto. The electrolyser will have a production capacity of more than 250 tonnes of hydrogen in a year.

Sumitomo Corporation Energy Innovation Initiative Director Seiji Kitajima said: “We are excited to be delivering this hydrogen project together with Rio Tinto as our long-term partner with the support of ARENA. 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.”

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