Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO) announced on Wednesday, that it will partner with Sumitomo Corporation of Japan to build a hydrogen plant in Gladstone, Queensland, in an effort to reduce carbon emissions in its Yarwun alumina refinery.
The hydrogen plant has the potential to slash emissions in one of Rio Tinto’s most carbon-intensive operations, which has encouraged The Australian Renewable Energy Agency to contribute A$32.1M to the A$111.1M initiative to explore the lower-carbon alumina refining technology.
Sumitomo Corporation Energy innovation initiative director, Seiji Kitajima said: “We are excited to be delivering this hydrogen project together with Rio Tinto as our long-term partner with the support of ARENA.”
Through the construction of a 2.5MW electrolyser based on-site, hydrogen will be supplied to the Yarwum refinery, reducing CO2 emissions by roughly 3,000 metric tons per annum, while producing 6,000 metric tons of alumina each year. If effective, the programme may serve as a leading model for technology adoption globally.
Sumitomo will own and operate the electrolyser, with the expectation of producing over 250 metric tons of hydrogen per year. Rio will investigate using hydrogen in calcination, a process that involves heating hydrated alumina to high temperatures, to ensure its viability.
Josh Gilbert, market analyst, eToro AUS Capital, explained that hydrogen plays a significant role as part of the global transition to renewable energy. Rio Tinto is Australia’s 10th largest emitter, emitting 7.4M metric tons of direct and indirect emissions, according to the Clean Energy Regulator.
Sumitomo will own and operate the electrolyser and supply hydrogen to Rio. The electrolyser will have annual hydrogen production capacity of over 250 metric tons. Rio will also explore the viability of using hydrogen in calcination, a process which heats up hydrated alumina to extremely high temperatures.
“Demonstrating real-world applications of hydrogen 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 hydrogen project in Australia and contributing to Australia’s own emission reductions goals.” Added Seiji.
The pilot plant follows the success of a A$1.2M feasibility study co-funded by Rio Tinto and ARENA that was announced in 2021.