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Rio Tinto and Sumitomo Corporation to build H2 pilot plant for alumina refining

Sumitomo Corporation and Rio Tinto have agreed to build a pilot plant in Gladstone to trial using H2 to replace natural gas in the alumina refining process. Sumitomo Corporation and Rio Tinto have been proceeding with a study for the construction of a H2 pilot plant at Rio Tinto’s Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone under a partnership in Aug 2021.

Rio Tinto’s Yarwun alumina refinery

Sumitomo Corporation completed its front-end engineering and design (FEED) study in March 2022. The $75.41-MM joint Rio Tinto and Sumitomo Corporation Yarwun H2 Calcination Pilot Demonstration Program is the first of its kind in the world to trial using H2 in the refinery calcination process. It will consist of a H2 plant at the refinery and retrofit of processing equipment and will be co-funded through a $21.74-MM grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

Sumitomo Corporation will own and operate a 2.5-MW electrolyzer at Yarwun alumina refinery and supply the H2 to one of Rio Tinto Yarwun’s calciners to operate with a H2 burner directly. The electrolyzer will have a production capacity of more than 250 tpy of H2. Construction will start in 2024 and the H2 plant and calciner are expected to be in operation by 2025. If successful, the project will demonstrate the viability of using H2 in the calcination process and could pave the way for adoption at scale across the industry worldwide.

Rio Tinto Aluminum Pacific Operations Managing Director, Armando Torres said, “This pilot plant is an important step in testing whether H2 can replace natural gas in Queensland alumina refineries. At Rio Tinto we have put the energy transition at the heart of our business strategy, and this is one of the ways we’re working towards decarbonizing our operations. We are proud to be developing this new technology here in Gladstone, in partnership with Sumitomo Corporation, and with support from ARENA.”

Sumitomo Corporation Energy Innovation Initiative Director, Seiji Kitajima said, “We are excited to be delivering this H2 project together with Rio Tinto as our long-term partner with the support of ARENA. Demonstrating real-world applications of H2 in industrial settings with motivated partners is essential to reducing carbon emissions and working toward our company’s vision of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Through this demonstration, Sumitomo Corporation aims to venture into the commercialization project to contribute to Rio Tinto’s decarbonization. Sumitomo Corporation is proud to be working on yet another H2 project in Australia and contributing to Australia’s own emission reductions goals.”

Sumitomo Corporation expects H2 to be one of the key energies of the future and promotes H2 related businesses such as local production and consumption projects and large-scale value chain projects. This is our first H2 production and supply project for which a final investment decision has been taken and will be the first step in a phased approach to commercialization, starting with a local production and consumption project, with the aim of constructing a large-scale value chain and exporting H2 in the future.

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