Rio Tinto and Sumitomo Corp. have received the green light to build a prototypical hydrogen plant as part of an AU$111.1 million ($US76 million) program to reduce carbon emissions from refining alumina, according to a July 11 press release. Alumina is a substance used as a starting material for smelting aluminum.

The plant is part of the Yarwun Hydrogen Calcination Pilot Demonstration Program and is being built following an AU$32.1 million funding boost from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). Its primary purpose includes discovering whether hydrogen use in the calcination process is viable. If it is, the program could result in the hydrogen-calcination technology being used worldwide, the companies said.

The plant will begin construction in 2024, and operation is expected to begin by 2025. The plant will involve a 2.5 megawatt (MW) on-site electrolyzer which is meant to supply hydrogen to the refinery, and a retrofit of one of Yarwun’s calciners so it can cooperate with a hydrogen burner. If successful, the process could produce the equivalent of approximately 6,000 tonnes per year and reduce the town’s CO2 emissions by approximately 3,000 tonnes per year (tpy), according to the release. In theory, if the entire hydrogen plant were to be switched to green hydrogen, it could reduce total emissions by 500,000 tpy.

Sumitomo Corp. will own and operate the electrolyzer while also supplying the produced hydrogen to Rio Tinto. The electrolyzer is expected to produce approximately 250 tpy of hydrogen.

“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, innovation initiative director for Sumitomo Corp. “Through this demonstration, Sumitomo Corporation aims to venture into the commercialization project to contribute to Rio Tinto’s decarbonization.”

Sumitomo Corp. is a trading and business investment company with operations in 66 countries and regions. Rio Tinto is a metals and mining group with operations in 35 countries.