Alcoa granted $8.8m to explore technology to reduce emissions in alumina refining

It will demonstrate technology that can electrify the production of steam in its alumina refining process using renewable energy

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Alcoa Corporation has been granted funding worth $8.8 million (£5.9m) to demonstrate technology with the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions in the alumina refining process.

Alumina refining is an energy intensive process that uses high pressure steam to produce the heat required to process bauxite into alumina, which is the core ingredient for producing aluminium used to make everything from cans to aircrafts.

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of bauxite and one of the largest exporters of alumina, accounting for around 15% of global alumina refining capacity.

In 2019, alumina refining accounted for more than 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in the country, which represents around 24% of Australia’s Scope 1 manufacturing emissions.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has granted the funding to test the potential use of renewable energy in a process known as Mechanical Vapour Recompression (MVR).

MVR recompresses waste steam that would otherwise be exhausted into the atmosphere and recycles it in the refining process, with the technology having the potential to improve efficiency as well as reduce costs, emissions and water use.

Alcoa estimates the MVR technology powered by renewable energy could reduce an alumina refinery’s carbon footprint by 70%.

If the feasibility studies are successful, Alcoa plans to install a 3MW MVR module with renewable energy at the Wagerup refinery in Western Australia by 2023 to test the technology at scale.

Eugenio Azevedo, Alcoa’s Vice President for Continuous Improvement said: “Already, Alcoa is the world’s lowest carbon intensity alumina producer and the application of MVR, if proven successful, would be an important step forward in further reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Using lower carbon alumina in the smelting process will reduce the overall carbon footprint of the metal, too, when considering the indirect and direct emissions across bauxite mining, alumina refining and aluminium smelting and casting.”