Yarwun Alumina Refinery from the air

Could hydrogen help reduce emissions in the aluminium industry?

A new pilot program will help us find out

Last updated: 25 July 2023


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.

One possible solution we’re testing is whether renewable hydrogen can be used in alumina refining – and other industries too. In partnership with Sumitomo Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, we’re building a first-of-a-kind hydrogen pilot plant at our Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone, Queensland, Australia.

Our ambition is to achieve net zero carbon emissions from our operations by 2050

We engage with investor and civil society organisations on our approach to climate advocacy to support the decarbonisation of our operations.

To support this approach, and in line with our commitment to transparency, we are publishing a series of briefing papers on our key emission sources, efforts to decarbonise specific assets and how policy-settings can support our Scope 1 and 2 emissions reduction targets which are aligned with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Converting the entire plant to green hydrogen could reduce emissions by 500,000 tonnes per year, which is the equivalent of taking about 109,000 internal combustion engine cars off the road.

Here are 5 reasons why hydrogen could help reduce industry emissions:

1. Hydrogen burns cleanly

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

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

About the Yarwun Hydrogen Calcination Pilot Demonstration Program

The project will consist of construction of a 2.5MW on-site electrolyser to supply green hydrogen to the Yarwun refinery and a retrofit of one of Yarwun’s four calciners so it can operate at times with a hydrogen burner. If successful, the program could pave the way for adoption of the technology at scale globally.

The trial is expected to produce the equivalent of about 6,000 tonnes of alumina per year while reducing Yarwun’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 3,000 tonnes per year.

Converting the entire plant to green hydrogen could reduce emissions by 500,000 tonnes per year, which is the equivalent of taking about 109,000 internal combustion engine cars off the road.

Construction will start in 2024. The hydrogen plant and calciner are expected to be in operation by 2025.

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