Green alumina processing pilot in WA receives major backing from ARENA


The federally-run Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has allocated $8.6 million to Alcoa’s Pinjarra alumina refinery to test new carbon reduction technology.

The refinery in Western Australia’s south is seeking to electrify its alumina calcination process using renewable energy. Calcination is the final stage in the alumina refining process and typically uses fossil fuels to heat alumina hydrate crystals. Alumina is then used as a feedstock to create aluminium.

The pilot, which is reported to cost around $20 million, has also been awarded $1.7 million from the Western Australian government, taking Australian government funding to almost half of the cost of the trial.

The grants announced on Monday “complement” funding Alcoa received from ARENA last year to support its trial of mechanical vapour recompression, another technology that would use renewable energy to recycle low-pressure steam in alumina refining to generate process heat.

The company estimates that when combined with a decarbonised grid, the two electrified processes could reduce an alumina refinery’s carbon emissions by as much as 98% and reduce fresh water use by up to 70%.

The electric calcination pilot will happen in two stages, Alcoa’s said. The first stage will run until the end of 2023 and will involve the study, selection, engineering and testing of technologies. 

Subject to a successful completion of the first stage, the second portion of the project will begin in the first quarter of 2024 and continue into mid-2026 with detailed design, construction and pilot testing of this emerging technology at Alcoa’s Pinjarra refinery in Western Australia.

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