Rio Tinto to install carbon-free aluminium smelting cells with first ELYSIS technology license

29 June 2024

Rio Tinto will install carbon-free aluminum electrolysis tanks at its Arvida aluminum smelter in Quebec, Canada, with the first technology license issued by the ELYSIS joint venture. This investment will allow the continued development of the new ELYSIS MD technology and will allow Rio Tinto to acquire expertise in the installation and operation of this technology.

Rio Tinto will design, engineer and build a demonstration plant equipped with ten tanks operating at 100 kiloamperes (kA). The plant will be owned by a new joint venture in which Rio Tinto and the government of Quebec, through Investissement Québec, will invest US$179 million (C$235 million) and US$106 million ( 140 million Canadian dollars) respectively as equity partners, for a total investment of 285 million US dollars (375 million Canadian dollars).

The plant will use the same technology that was successfully demonstrated at the ELYSIS Industrial Research and Development Center in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean. This pilot project will be an important step in Rio Tinto's learning journey towards the full industrialization of ELYSIS MD technology .

The plant will have the capacity to produce up to 2,500 tonnes of commercial grade aluminum per year without generating direct greenhouse gas emissions, with the aim of starting production by 2027. It will be adjacent to the existing Arvida plant, allowing use of existing alumina stockpiles and casting center.

Jérôme Pécresse, CEO, Rio Tinto Aluminum, said: “This investment will strengthen Rio Tinto's leading position in the responsible, low-carbon aluminum sector in North America, thanks to our aluminum smelters powered by by hydroelectricity and our recycling capacities. Being the first to deploy ELYSIS MD carbon-free electrolysis technology is the next step in our decarbonization and growth strategy for our Canadian aluminum operations. In addition to providing our customers with even lower carbon primary aluminum, this investment will enable Rio Tinto to develop its expertise in the installation and implementation of this new technology as the ELYSIS joint venture continues its research and development work to extract its full potential. »

The Minister of Economy, Innovation and Energy of Quebec, Minister responsible for Regional Economic Development and Minister responsible for the Metropolis and the Montreal region, Pierre Fitzgibbon, declared: “ELYSISMD is a true disruptive technology for the industry, and it is thanks to Quebec's expertise that we are the first in the world to produce GHG-free aluminum. This is a technological innovation with unprecedented benefits for our aluminum sector, which remains an undisputed world leader."

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Canada's Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, said: "Canada has everything it takes to be the world's green supplier of choice, which is why our government is working with key industry players like Rio Tinto to produce low-carbon aluminum. Groundbreaking projects like ELYSIS MD electrolysis technology will allow Canada to remain at the forefront of tomorrow's economy while focusing on its carbon reduction goals. When economic benefits are coupled with a commitment to developing green solutions, it’s a win for Canadian industry, our cleantech ecosystem and our workers.”

ELYSIS joint venture partner Alcoa will have the option to purchase a portion of Rio Tinto’s aluminium production over the first four years at the Arvida demonstration plant, through a buy-out agreement.