The Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy’s energy enterprise, Enova SF, has pledged NOK 1.55 billion (US$259 million) in investment backing for Hydro’s full scale next-generation electrolysis pilot project at Karmøy, on the west coast of Norway. This contribution is subject to approval by the European Free Trade Association’s (EFTA) surveillance authority ESA.
Provided the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) approves the investment, the subsidy will help to ensure that future production of aluminium will be both more energy-efficient and climate-friendly.
The reason we decided to back this project is because, following thorough assessments, we found that the proposed technology holds immense potential. Projections indicate high demand for aluminium in the years ahead, not least in the transport sector. This makes it crucial for production to be based on the lowest possible energy consumption and the lowest possible greenhouse gas emissions.—Enova CEO Nils Kristian Nakstad
With its low mass, aluminium is a key resource in enabling the automotive industry to manufacture less energy-intensive and more climate-friendly cars. Against that, the production of aluminium is associated with high energy consumption and heavy greenhouse gas emissions.
|Aluminum is made from bauxite, which is mined from a few meters below ground surface. The bauxite is shipped to plants where it is cleaned, and then ground. Alumina (aluminum oxide) is then separated from the bauxite by using a hot solution of caustic soda and lime.|
|The result is heated, filtered and dried to a white powder. This powder then moves to the metal plant, where it is put through an electrolysis process. Electricity is run between an anode and cathode (both made of carbon) in an electrolysis cell; the anode reacts with the oxygen in the alumina and forms CO2. The result is liquid aluminum, which is tapped from the electrolysis cells.|
|It is this last stage in aluminum production that Hydro is addressing with its new technology.|
Hydro’s technology center in Årdal, Norway, is a global leader in developing new and more energy-efficient electrolysis cell technology. It is this technology that Hydro wishes to test in the pilot plant.
The pilot plant could be on stream by 2017 at the earliest. With the aid of 60 new electrolytic cells, the full-scale pilot plant would potentially be able to produce around 70,000 tonnes of aluminium per year. If the pilot yields the results Hydro is hoping for, the new technology will be applied in further ventures both in Norway and internationally.
With the pilot and infrastructure built up at Karmøy, there is every chance that the first facility to apply the technology production-wide will remain located at this Norwegian site. If so, estimates indicate that energy consumption would be reduced by a full 0.5 TWh, based on a production capacity of 320,000 tonnes per annum, compared with the energy demands if Hydro were to use current technology.
For Norwegian production facilities that largely run on clean energy already, greenhouse emissions would be reduced by 5%. But if the technology replaces production currently sited abroad where the energy source is typically coal and natural gas, the resulting emissions reductions will be much larger. Globally, carbon emissions from an aluminium plant average 7.3 kg per produced kilo of aluminium—but that excludes China, where the same figure is almost double. Emissions from the Karmøy pilot in Norway, however, would be less than 1.5 kg of carbon dioxide per kilo of aluminium, if the production facilities run on clean energy only.
Nakstad stressed that the Karmøy project faces a few hurdles ahead of the finishing line. First, the EFTA’s supervisory body, ESA, which is well informed of the project, has to grant its approval. Next will be Hydro’s final decision on whether or not to go ahead with the investment in the pilot.