Rio Tinto will invest $1.1 billion (CAN$1.4 billion) to expand its AP60 (earlier post) aluminum smelter equipped with low-carbon technology at Complexe Jonquière in Canada. The total investment includes up to $113 million (CAN$150 million) of financial support from the Québec government.
This expansion, which will coincide with the gradual closure of potrooms at the Arvida smelter on the same site, will enable Rio Tinto to continue meeting customers’ demand for low-carbon, high-quality aluminum for use in transportation, construction, electrical and consumer goods.
The investment will add 96 new AP60 pots, increasing capacity by approximately 160,000 metric tonnes of primary aluminum per year, enough for 400,000 electric cars.
AP60 pots enable a step change in pot technology by overcoming the challenges of very high amperage (500-600kA). AP60 is based on an optimized framework (busbars, shell and superstructure) and operating equipment. The anode assemblies, cathodes and linings, ventilation and gas flow for the AP60 target high labor productivity and low CAPEX/t.
The AP60 technology generates approximately 1.6 tonnes of CO2e per tonne of aluminum produced, compared to approximately 3.2 tonnes of CO2e per tonne of aluminum for the Arvida smelter’s current technology, and more than 12 tonnes of CO2e per tonne of aluminum for the industry average.
As a result, there will be a total of 134 AP60 pots and a capacity of approximately 220,000 tonnes per annum. Construction will run over two and a half years, with commissioning of the new pots expected to start in the first half of 2026 and the smelter fully ramped up by the end of 2026. Once completed, the expanded smelter is expected to be in the first quartile of the industry cost curve.
This new capacity will offset the 170,000 tonnes of capacity lost through the gradual closure of potrooms at the Arvida smelter from 2024. In addition, Rio Tinto will add 30,000 tonnes of new capacity through the commissioning of the previously announced recycling facility at Arvida in the first quarter of 2025.
These facilities will ensure Rio Tinto’s casting facilities at Complexe Jonquière continue to provide value added products that meet customers’ needs, including integrating recycled post-consumer aluminum into primary aluminum alloys.
The AP60 smelting technology was developed by Rio Tinto’s Research and Deelopment teams and is amongst the most efficient and lowest carbon technology currently available at commercial scale. When combined with the hydropower used at Rio Tinto’s operations in Canada, it generates one-seventh of greenhouse gases per tonne of aluminum when compared with the industry average, and half the emissions when compared to the technology currently used at the Arvida smelter.
The project will generate up to 1,000 jobs during the peak of construction and approximately 100 permanent jobs will be maintained as a result of the expanded smelter.
In addition to this investment in low-carbon aluminum, Rio Tinto is working with the Governments of Canada and Québec towards a deployment of the ELYSIS zero-carbon aluminum smelting technology at its Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean facilities. With the current development pathway, ELYSIS aims to have its technology available for installation from 2024 and the production of larger volumes of carbon-free aluminum approximately two years later.
Rio Tinto and the Government of Canada have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding that deepens their commitment to strengthen supply chains for low-carbon primary metals, critical minerals and other value-added products. The cooperation will also aim to support projects that have the potential to grow Rio Tinto’s activities in Canada, including the current and future decarbonisation of the aluminum supply chain.
The investment in the AP60 smelter is already included as replacement capital expenditure in Rio Tinto’s capital investment guidance for 2023 to 2025. The Group’s capital expenditure guidance of $9 billion to $10 billion in both 2024 and 2025 remains unchanged.