Carbon-free aluminium smelting is a step closer
Revolutionising the way aluminium is made
Last updated: 4 February 2022
One of the challenges of producing aluminium responsibly is finding ways to decarbonise the way it’s made.
While aluminium is essential for low-carbon solutions, including lightweight cars and energy efficient buildings, it takes a lot of energy to produce.
In 2018 we partnered with Alcoa, supported by Apple and the Governments of Canada and Quebec, on ELYSIS, a joint venture to help further develop breakthrough aluminium smelting technology that produces no greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The technology will eliminate all direct GHGs from the traditional aluminium smelting process, instead producing pure oxygen.
It has the potential to transform the aluminium industry through a significant reduction in its carbon footprint. In Canada alone, the use of ELYSIS' technology has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 6.5 million metric tons – the equivalent of removing 1.8 million cars from the roads.
The technology – which can be used in both new and existing aluminium smelters – will also reduce operating costs at aluminium smelters, while increasing production capacity.
Importantly, it will also help aluminium customers to decarbonise their supply chain, in line with growing demand from consumers. Aluminium produced during the ELYSIS research and development stage has already been used by Apple, ABInBev for Michelob Ultra cans and Audi for the wheels on its eTron GT.
Working together to tackle climate change
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our customers and our supply chains, and it will take a coordinated effort to make meaningful progress.
We have a range of R&D and supply chain partnerships to both reduce our footprint and meet customer needs across a wide range of environmental, social and governance challenges – from carbon emissions to extracting critical minerals from waste.
In November 2021, ELYSIS achieved a major milestone by successfully producing aluminium without any direct GHG emissions at its Industrial Research and Development Center in Saguenay, Quebec, Canada. There is still more work to do before the technology can be used at a commercial scale.
The focus is now on accelerating the scale-up of the technology towards the demonstration of even larger commercial-size cells in 2023.
Construction of these prototype cells is well underway at our Alma aluminium smelter. The smelting cells will operate on an electrical current of 450 kA, which is the commercial scale for many large, modern aluminium smelters. The industrial cells are designed to be used as a “drop-in” replacement to retrofit existing smelters or build new ones and can be scalable to sizes as needed.
With the current development pathway, ELYSIS aims to have its technology available for installation from 2024 and the production of larger volumes of carbon-free aluminium approximately two years later.
ELYSIS is a technology company created through a partnership between Alcoa and Rio Tinto. ELYSIS’ goal is to revolutionise the way aluminium is produced across the globe. Our process eliminates all direct greenhouse gases from aluminium smelting, and instead produces oxygen. Alcoa, Rio Tinto, the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec provided a combined investment of C$228 million to create ELYSIS and to see this technology reach commercial maturity.