Aluminium: a metal for the future

  • Infinitely recyclable
  • Reduces transport emissions
  • Preserves food and pharmaceutical products

Borates: sustainable mineral

  • Important ingredient in insulation fibreglass
  • Used in textile fibreglass for the blades of wind turbines

Copper: material for green innovation

  • Hybrid and electric cars
  • Renewable energy systems
  • Smart wiring

Coal: developing low emission technologies

  • >A$100 million invested in carbon capture and storage (CCS)
  • Sponsor of CO2CRC CCS research organisation
  • Voluntary contributor to Coal21 Fund for low emission research and development

In the short term, the policy drivers and imperatives for businesses to take action are weak. However, the intent shown by governments in adopting the Paris Agreement in December 2015 indicates a higher level of ambition. By signing the Paris Pledge, we have supported this intent and a commitment to a safe and stable climate in which temperature rise is limited to less than two degrees Celsius.

We also recognise the need to act now, plan how to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to a safe level over the medium term and build resilience against changes already occurring. We have clear goals for reducing our GHG emissions intensity, and we are working to make our operations more energy efficient and to expand our use of renewable power sources. These initiatives benefit our business, our stakeholders and the environment.

Our business is energy intensive. When we mine, process and transport the minerals and metals that modern society depends on, we use energy and generate carbon emissions. Given the scale of our business, when we take steps to manage and reduce our energy use and emissions, Rio Tinto has an opportunity to make a sustainable impact on a large scale.

Reducing our energy footprint is not easy. It’s a complex process, often involving projects with long time horizons. But we have already made significant progress, cutting our absolute GHG emissions by more than 36 per cent between 2008 and 2015. And we have stated our intent to take further action, signing the COP21 Paris Pledge for Action in 2015 and confirming our aim to substantially decarbonise our business by 2050.

Innovation is an important part of our climate change programme. It helps us to find smarter and more sustainable ways to run and grow our business, and to work in ways that are better for the environment.

Today, we are applying innovation to the challenge of climate change in two key ways: using less energy in our operations and cutting the carbon intensity of our energy mix.

Kitimat: more production with
lower emissions

Kitimat: more
production with
ower emissions

In British Columbia, Canada, modernisation of our Kitimat smelter means it can now produce 48 per cent more aluminium with 50 per cent lower emissions.

In British Columbia, Canada, modernisation of our Kitimat smelter means it can now produce 48 per cent more aluminium with 50 per cent lower emissions.

Kitimat is powered by hydroelectricity from its own power station and uses our proprietary AP40 technology, which is expected to cut its energy usage by 33 per cent per tonne of aluminium produced. This makes Kitimat one of the world’s lowest GHG-emitting aluminium smelters.

Smart operations

Sustainable smelting

Producing aluminium requires large amounts of energy, which is why Rio Tinto uses hydroelectricity for much of our power needs in primary aluminium. However, our technical advances have also made it possible for Rio Tinto and other smelters to keep the production process for aluminium as efficient as possible. Rio Tinto’s proprietary AP TechnologyTM reduces electricity consumption, drives down atmospheric emissions, including greenhouse gases, and enables producers to recycle waste streams internally. Perfected over 30 years, AP TechnologyTM is recognised today as the cleanest way to produce aluminium.

Energy leadership

We recognise that it is sometimes easy to identify opportunities to save energy but hard to implement them in practice, especially when sites lack the resources to pursue them. In these cases we can work with partners to transform opportunities into action. Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) in South Africa partnered with consultancy Ensight in 2013 to create the Energy Leadership Programme (ELP). As well as helping RBM find and implement energy efficiency projects, the programme also aimed to create sustainable cultural change within the organisation. Since its inception, the multi-year ELP has investigated 50 projects and already reduced energy costs and improved RBM’s bottom line.

New benchmark for
wind power

New benchmark for
wind power

Supplying energy to the Diavik diamond mine in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories is itself an energy-intensive process, as fuel has to be hauled over long distances.

Supplying energy to the Diavik diamond mine in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories is itself an energy-intensive process, as fuel has to be hauled over long distances.

Diavik’s solution has been to build the world’s largest wind-diesel hybrid power facility. With four turbines featuring innovative de-icing technology that allows them to operate in temperatures as low as -40°C, the 9.2 megawatt wind farm provides 11 per cent of the mine’s power and cuts the winter road fuel haul by around 100 loads each year.

Clean energy

As a business that operates long-term, energy-intensive projects, it is in our interest to use sources of power that are as cost effective and sustainable as possible. Sixty seven per cent of all electricity Rio Tinto uses is derived from renewable sources including hydropower, wind and solar. Today, we are finding more and more opportunities to introduce clean energy across our operations.

Harnessing solar

At the Weipa bauxite operation in Australia, Rio Tinto is using a solar photovoltaic (PV) array to reduce diesel usage at the facility’s power stations. The 1.7 megawatt capacity plant will be able to support 20 per cent of the Weipa township’s daytime electricity needs, saving up to 600,000 litres of diesel per year and cutting CO2 emissions by 1,600 tonnes per year. This hybrid solution combines PV with diesel generation to provide a reliable off-grid power source. If its first phase is successful, there are plans to expand the plant and introduce a storage component, with the potential to cut GHG emissions by over 6,100 tonnes per year.

In Karratha, Western Australia, Rio Tinto is installing solar PV on 300 houses it owns for its Iron Ore workforce, reducing CO2 emissions by 7,000kg per property, per year. In the longer term, a fully off-grid system incorporating battery storage is being considered.

Hydropower:
low cost, low carbon

Hydropower: low cost,
low carbon

Low-carbon energy keeps aluminium smelting cost-effective as well as clean.

Low-carbon energy keeps aluminium smelting cost-effective as well as clean.

Almost 80 per cent of the power for our smelting operations comes from low-carbon sources, with 55 per cent generated by our own hydropower assets. The carbon footprint from Rio Tinto’s aluminium smelters is around half the industry average, at less than six tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per tonne of aluminium, compared with an industry average of around 11 tonnes.

Contributing to the low-carbon economy

Many of our materials and innovations have a large part to play in building a low-carbon future. Aluminium, for example, makes lighter vehicles that use less fuel; and the primary market for our borates is insulation, acknowledged as one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce CO2 emissions. Copper’s properties make it a critical component in electric cars, smart systems and renewable energy, while uranium makes it possible to generate large amounts of power with no CO2 emissions. As a coal producer, Rio Tinto recognises the importance of developing low emission technologies for fossil fuels, and has invested in carbon capture and storage (CCS) pilots and studies over the past 15 years.

Climate commitment

Rio Tinto has committed to reducing the emissions intensity of its operations and is seeking a substantial decarbonisation of its business by 2050. Our Climate Change Position Statement, published in August 2012, sets out how we see our role in addressing climate change, including how we will work with customers, suppliers, governments and communities to work towards a low-carbon future. In December 2015, we signed the Paris Pledge for Action following the international negotiations at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) conference at which a historic climate agreement was reached. In signing the Pledge, we have joined a global community of organisations committed to maintaining “a safe and stable climate in which temperature rise is limited to under two degrees Celsius”.