Yarwun Alumina Refinery from the air

Could hydrogen help reduce emissions in the aluminium industry?

New research will help us find out


Aluminium is found in everything from cars to phones. But one of the challenges of producing this essential material responsibly is finding ways to decarbonise the process.

Part of the reason is creating alumina – the main ingredient in aluminium – takes a lot of energy, which in turn creates greenhouse gas emissions. We know new technologies will be essential to helping us reduce our emissions, but many haven’t been proven. And some not yet discovered.

That’s why research, like our partnership with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is so important. Through this study at our Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone, Queensland, Australia, we hope to find a way to use renewable hydrogen in alumina refining – and other industries too.

Our ambition is to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050

Here are five reasons why hydrogen could help reduce industry emissions:

Hydrogen burns cleanly.

When you burn hydrogen, you get steam. Nothing else.

The steam and water created can be put to good use.

Steam can be captured and used in other parts of the refining process. Then, it can be condensed into water, which can be recycled to create more hydrogen. That’s something we’re looking at as part of this study. It’s important because creating 1kg of hydrogen takes 9kgs of water (if, like your friendly editor here, you didn’t study chemistry: it’s the H in H2O). So, creating truly green hydrogen needs renewable energy AND a renewable water supply.

If steam generated from the hydrogen fired calciner is captured and used to replace fossil fuels in other parts of the refining process, we could decarbonise up to 50% of the process.

It has good combustion properties.

Part of the process of extracting alumina from bauxite involves burning the mineral at around 1000 degrees Celsius in huge heaters, known as calciners. And there are only a few ways you can achieve the temperature needed. Hydrogen’s properties make it well suited to these kinds of industrial processes, like alumina refining.

If we get the technology right, it could make hydrogen more affordable.

For hydrogen to be widely adopted, it also needs to be a cost-efficient solution. One of the ways we can make it more affordable for wider industrial use is by developing technologies that can be built into existing infrastructure, avoiding the need to build new equipment or making large-scale (expensive) modifications. Our engineering teams are looking at how we may be able to do that.

It can be powered by other types of renewable energy.

Solar and wind power can be used to drive the processes behind creating renewable hydrogen.

Solar panels, Weipa operations

Our ARENA Partnership

We’re partnering with ARENA to assess hydrogen use in industry and support a coordinated approach to developing a local supply chain.

More

We previously partnered with ARENA to deliver our Weipa solar project, which integrated 1.7 MW of renewable solar into our remote electricity grid, creating Australia’s first commercial diesel displacement solar plant.

What we will learn from the study

  • How hydrogen can be stored, transported and used safely for alumina refining
  • Engineering solutions for designing and building equipment to capture steam and burn hydrogen at an industrial scale

What we learn will help us with the next step: testing full-scale pilot technology that can be safely retrofitted to existing refineries.