Rio Tinto, Alcoa to build $198m environmental research and development facility

Rio Tinto has partnered with Alcoa to commercialise a breakthrough technology that will eliminate all direct greenhouse gases (GHG) from the traditional aluminium smelting process by 2024.

Technology developed in the Elysis joint venture (JV) will produce pure oxygen, reducing the environmental footprint of the aluminium industry on a global scale.

Elysis can play an important role in helping to address the climate change challenge by delivering carbon free aluminium smelting, according to Rio Tinto Aluminium chief executive Alf Barrios.

In Canada alone, the Elysis technology has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by seven million tonnes, the equivalent of removing 1.8 million cars from the roads, Rio Tinto stated.

Elysis will directly employ more than 25 experts when fully operational, targeted in the second half of 2020.

“With the development of this research centre, we can proudly root our company in Québec, and in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean in particular,” Elysis chief executive Vincent Christ said.

“Our team is enthusiastic about working collaboratively to refine our technology so we can help bring the aluminium industry to new levels and make it even more sustainable.”

The research centre will be located in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean in Canada because of the region’s notable expertise in the aluminium sector and financial backing from both the Quebec and Canadian governments.

Alcoa, Rio Tinto, the Quebec and Canadian governments provided a combined investment of $CAD188 million ($198 million) to create and see Elysis reach commercial maturity in 2024.

Elysis will reduce operating costs of aluminium smelters while increasing production capacity. It could be used in both new and existing aluminium smelters. The development will also sell next-generation anode and cathode materials, which will last more than 30 times longer than traditional components.

“The Elysis technology is undoubtedly one of the most important innovations within the aluminium industry and a major step forward in tackling climate change,” Quebec Minister of Economy and Innovation Pierre Fitzgibbon said.

“We are proud to contribute to the realisation of this initiative that will draw on the exceptional expertise of this Quebec industry, one in which a large number of companies are based in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region.”

The Elysis team will continue to work in close collaboration with the Alcoa Technical Centre near Pittsburgh in the United States, where the patent-protected technology was invented and has been producing metal at different scales since 2009.