Sumitomo and Rio Tinto to Build Hydrogen Pilot Plant

The trial will use hydrogen to replace natural gas in the alumina refining process.

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Rio Tinto and Sumitomo plan hydrogen pilot plant
Sumitomo and Rio Tinto are piloting a hydrogen plant to trial lower-carbon alumina refining in Gladstone, Australia.Image courtesy of Rio Tinto

Sumitomo Corp. and Rio Tinto, a global mining group out of the UK, are building a pilot plant in Gladstone, Australia, to trial using hydrogen to replace natural gas in the alumina refining process.

The two companies have been proceeding with a study for the construction of a hydrogen pilot plant at Rio Tinto’s Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone under a partnership in Aug 2021. Sumitomo completed its front-end engineering and design study (FEED) in March 2022.

The A$111 million joint Yarwun Hydrogen Calcination Pilot Demonstration Program is the first of its kind to trial using hydrogen in the refinery calcination process. It will consist of a hydrogen plant at the refinery and retrofit of processing equipment and will be co-funded through a A$32 million grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

Sumitomo will own and operate a 2.5MW electrolyser at Yarwun alumina refinery and supply the hydrogen to one of Rio Tinto Yarwun’s calciners to operate with a hydrogen burner directly. The electrolyser will have a production capacity of more than 250 tonnes of hydrogen annually.

“We are excited to be delivering this hydrogen project together with Rio Tinto as our long-term partner with the support of ARENA. Demonstrating real-world applications of hydrogen in industrial settings with motivated partners is essential to reducing carbon emissions and working toward our company’s vision of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050," said Seiji Kitajima, Energy Innovation Initiative director at Sumitomo. "Through this demonstration, Sumitomo Corporation aims to venture into the commercialization project to contribute to Rio Tinto’s decarbonization. Sumitomo Corporation is proud to be working on yet another hydrogen project in Australia and contributing to Australia’s own emission reductions goals.”

Sumitomo expects hydrogen to be one of the key energies of the future and promotes hydrogen related businesses such as local production and consumption projects and large-scale value chain projects. It is the first hydrogen production and supply project for the company, for which a final investment decision has been taken and will be the first step in a phased approach to commercialization, starting with a local production and consumption project, with the aim of constructing a large-scale value chain and exporting hydrogen in the future. 

“This pilot plant is an important step in testing whether hydrogen can replace natural gas in Queensland alumina refineries. At Rio Tinto we have put the energy transition at the heart of our business strategy, and this is one of the ways we’re working towards decarbonising our operations," said Armando Torres, Rio Tinto Aluminium Pacific Operations managing director. "We are proud to be developing this new technology here in Gladstone, in partnership with Sumitomo Corporation, and with support from ARENA.”

Construction is planned for 2024, and the hydrogen plant and calciner are expected to be in operation by 2025. If successful, the project will demonstrate the viability of using hydrogen in the calcination process and could pave the way for adoption at scale across the industry worldwide.

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Powder Bulk Solids Staff

Established in 1983, Powder & Bulk Solids (PBS) serves industries that process, handle, and package dry particulate matter, including the food, chemical, and pharmaceutical markets.

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