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Rio Tinto and Sumitomo to assess hydrogen pilot plant at Gladstone’s Yarwun alumina refinery

Rio Tinto and Sumitomo Corporation are partnering to study the construction of a hydrogen pilot plant at Rio Tinto’s Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone and explore the potential use of hydrogen at the refinery.

The two global companies have signed a letter of intent that focuses on Yarwun as the location for a Gladstone hydrogen plant that Sumitomo has been studying. If the project proceeds, the pilot plant would produce hydrogen for the Gladstone Hydrogen Ecosystem (GHE), announced earlier this year.

Sumitomo Australia, Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC), Gladstone Regional Council (GRC), Australian Gas Networks (AGN) as part of the Australian Gas Infrastructure Group (AGIG) and CQUniversity Australia (CQU) are jointly exploring opportunities to develop a hydrogen ecosystem in Gladstone. The ecosystem will initially pursue domestic offtake and mobility solutions before moving to enable large-scale export.

The MOU between the Gladstone partners, signed at Gladstone Entertainment Convention Centre, sets out a three-phased plan beginning this year, with the key end goal by 2030 to see hydrogen exported from Gladstone to the world.

Rio Tinto has a long relationship with Sumitomo and we are delighted to partner with them to explore the possibilities of hydrogen, not only for our own refinery, but for Sumitomo to supply industry more broadly in Gladstone. Reducing the carbon intensity of our alumina production will be key to meeting our 2030 and 2050 climate targets.

—Rio Tinto Australia Chief Executive Kellie Parker

The Sumitomo partnership complements a recently announced feasibility study (earlier post) into using hydrogen to replace natural gas in the alumina refining process at Yarwun and provides the potential for larger-scale implementation if the studies are successful.

For that project, Rio Tinto will conduct a $1.2-million feasibility study, equally funded with ARENA through a $580,000 grant, into using clean hydrogen to replace natural gas in the calcination stage of producing alumina at the Yarwun alumina refinery.

Calcination is the final stage of the Bayer process for producing alumina from bauxite; alumina is then used for the production of aluminum metal through the Hall–Héroult electrochemical smelting process.


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