Rio Tinto investing $87M to increase low-carbon AP60 aluminum production in Canada

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Rio Tinto is investing US$87 million to increase its low-carbon aluminum production in Canada with 16 new smelting cells at its AP60 smelter, in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Québec.

The investment will increase production at the smelter by around 45%, or 26,500 metric tonnes of primary aluminum per year, to a capacity of 86,500 metric tonnes.

Rio Tinto projects that the global aluminum market will grow at an average rate of 3.3% per annum over the next decade with strong demand driven by the energy transition and decarbonization.

Rio Tinto is committed to strengthening its position as a leader in low-carbon, hydro-powered aluminum production to meet the clear demand from our customers in North America and Europe. Our AP60 technology is one of the most energy efficient, environmentally friendly and cost effective systems in commercial production today. It produces some of the world’s lowest carbon aluminum with renewable hydropower here in Québec. We are assessing options for further investments, as we progress development of the ELYSIS zero-carbon smelting technology with our partners.

—Rio Tinto aluminum chief executive Ivan Vella

The new pots will be built in the existing building of the Complexe Jonquière’s AP60 technology center, which currently has 38 pots. Work will begin in the spring of 2022 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2023. At the same time, Rio Tinto will study the potential to add more AP60 cells at the site.

AP60 and APXe pots enable a step change in pot technology by overcoming the challenges of very high amperage (500-600kA). Both AP60 and APXe are based on the same optimized framework (busbars, shell and superstructure) and operating equipment. The anode assemblies, cathodes and linings, ventilation and gas flow differ to meet the respective needs of each technology: high labor productivity and low CAPEX/t for AP60 and very low energy consumption and low OPEX/t for APXe.

The AP60 technology was developed by Rio Tinto’s research and development teams, including the Arvida Research and Development Centre, and generates seven times less greenhouse gases than the industry average. Since their commissioning in Saguenay in 2013, the initial AP60 technology pots have produced more than 465,000 tonnes of low-carbon aluminum.