Business Update: September 2023 | AIChE

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Business Update: September 2023

Business Update

Making aluminum with green hydrogen

Metals and mining company, Rio Tinto, and Japan’s Sumitomo Chemical announced plans to build a $111 million hydrogen-based calcination pilot plant at Rio Tinto’s aluminum production site in Gladstone, Australia.

The basics. Aluminum is produced by processing bauxite ore into alumina with the Bayer process. The last step in the Bayer process — calcination — is a particularly energy-intensive one: aluminum hydroxide is dehydrated to alumina by heating it to temperatures near 1,100°C.

Where hydrogen enters the scene. The heat required for that last step is typically provided by burning natural gas. Rio Tinto and Sumitomo want to burn hydrogen instead; they are planning to produce that hydrogen via water electrolysis (instead of using hydrogen produced from the steam reforming of natural gas), and they want to get started next year.

Bigger picture. Making hydrogen via water electrolysis tends to spark debate when it comes to cost and ability to scale. Because this hydrogen is intended for a fuel application, it will certainly produce lower emissions than burning fossil fuels, but such applications are still hotly debated...

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