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Major Rio Tinto’s Alma smelter, in Quebec, has been tapped for the first installation and demonstration of an inert anode technology developed by the ELYSIS joint venture (JV), at a commercial size.

The demonstration plant will have a capacity of 450 kiloamperes (kA), which is a common capacity for modern, full-scale smelters.

ELYSIS is a JV led by Rio and aluminium major Alcoa, that is working to commercialise a new technology to make aluminum that eliminates all direct greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the traditional smelting process and instead produces oxygen.

As part of its technology development and scale-up, ELYSIS will install industrial inert anode prototype cells at the end of an existing potline at the Alma smelter to demonstrate the technology’s effectiveness at a commercial scale in an industrial operating environment.

This will build on ongoing work at the nearby ELYSIS industrial research and development center, also located in the Saguenay region of Quebec.

The new process will reduce operating costs of aluminium smelters while increasing production capacity. It could be used in both new and existing aluminium smelters.

“The road ahead is seeing the technology scaled up at our facilities in Québec, where we already use clean hydropower to deliver some of the world’s lowest carbon aluminum.

“Putting this hydropower together with the ELYSIS technology can take aluminum to the next level as a sustainable material, and help cut the carbon footprint of everything from cars to smartphones, buildings and food and beverage packaging,” said Rio aluminium MD for Atlantic operations Samir Cairae.

ELYSIS plans to commercialise its technology in 2024, for use in retrofitting existing smelters and installation in new facilities.

The 450 kA cells at Alma will be supported by a C$20-million investment from the government of Quebec to help bring forward the start of work at the site and to further strengthen the capability of manufacturing businesses in the region to supply specialised equipment required for the ELYSIS technology.