Carbon-free aluminium smelting a step closer

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Carbon-free aluminium smelting for products ranging from smart phones to cars and drink cans is a step closer with Elysis.

Carbon-free aluminium smelting at Elysis’ R&D centre in Saguenay, Quebec, Canada, uses a full industrial design at a size comparable to small smelting cells operating in the industry today. Work is now focused on accelerating the scale-up of the Elysis technology towards the demonstration of even larger commercial-size cells in 2023.

Construction of prototype cells for carbon-free smelting well underway

Construction of these prototype cells is now well underway at the end of an existing potline at Rio Tinto’s Alma smelter. The smelting cells will operate on a current of 450 kA, which is the commercial scale for many large, modern aluminium smelters. The industrial cells are designed to be used as a ‘drop-in’ replacement to retrofit existing smelters or build new ones and can be scalable to sizes as needed.

With the current development pathway, Elysis aims to have its technology available for installation from 2024 and the production of larger volumes of carbon-free aluminium approximately two years later.

Scaling up supply chain in 2022

Elysis is beginning detailed planning to scale-up the supply chain for the technology’s upcoming commercialization. In 2022, Elysis will commence the design and engineering for a facility that can produce the breakthrough, proprietary materials fundamental to its inert anode, zero-carbon smelting process.

Alcoa and Rio Tinto launched the Elysis joint venture in 2018. The inert anode technology now being scaled-up by Elysis builds on a process first developed at the Alcoa Technical Centre close to Pittsburgh. The carbon-free smelting technology, which emits oxygen, also incorporates the latest in next-generation smelting cell design from Rio Tinto. The combination of these two innovations has led Elysis to develop an industrial breakthrough technology enabling sustainability and performance.

Aluminium produced during the Elysis research and development stage has already been used by Apple, ABInBev for Michelob Ultra cans and Audi for the wheels on its eTron GT.

“A significant step in reinventing the aluminium smelting process”

Ivan Vella, chief executive of Rio Tinto Aluminium, said: “This is a significant step in reinventing the aluminium smelting process which is well over 100 years old. It will help address the paradox that aluminium is a material that is critical for the decarbonisation of the world, but also currently one that is very carbon-intensive to produce. Rio Tinto looks forward to bringing this breakthrough zero carbon technology to the market and supplying our customers with the green aluminium they are expecting.”

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