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The Alumina Technology Roadmap to 2050

The first Alumina Technology Roadmap provided the framework for focused research in the areas most critical to the industry.  Created in 2001 and updated in 2006 and 2010, the Roadmap stimulated highly productive research programs on precipitation, calcination, thickening, air emissions and residue management.

Refocus to 2050 began in 2017 with a framework based on Themes and Impact Opportunities developed by the Alumina Technical Panel, the technical advisory group to the Bauxite Alumina Committee of the IAI.  The groundwork for the new Roadmap was laid at the ATR workshop at Alumina 2018 in Gladstone, Australia, and has subsequently been further developed by AQW through the Alumina Technical Committee ATP. Details of the new Roadmap are now available on the  ATR 2050 website, which will be regularly updated according to future developments and stakeholder input.

Here is a brief summary:

ATR 2050:

  • Shows the way to carbon-neutral, sustainable alumina production by 2050 through technological innovation
  • A natural evolution from previous Alumina Technology Roadmaps
  • Encourages collaboration between producers, suppliers, customers, universities and other public and private research institutions
  • Focuses on the Bayer process, but is open to alternative technologies

Theme 1. Energy

Aluminium is positioned to become the ‘green metal’ in the post-2050 decarbonized world, increasing its contribution to light-weighting transport and packaging while dramatically reducing its own carbon footprint and leveraging its iconic recyclability. A substantial increase in alumina output while transitioning to carbon neutral production will be required.

Transition to Renewable Energy and CCUS

Carbon-neutral by 2050 demands revolutionary change in how energy is produced, delivered and used for alumina production, including:

  • Decarbonisation of current steam-based and calcining processes, by:
    • Electrification from renewable sources
    • Fuel switching to zero carbon fuels, e.g. green hydrogen, ammonia, etc.
    • Concentrated solar thermal heating, e.g. for alumina calciners
  • Implementation of carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) where substitution is not feasible
  • Replacement of fossil fuels with carbon-neutral alternatives, e.g. biofuels, methane from CO2 via the Sabatier process, etc.

Examples of Current and Potential Projects

  • H2 for Calcination
  • Solar calcination
  • Calciner electrification
  • Vapour recompression
  • Heat pumps
  • Electric steam boilers
  • Heat storage systems
  • Hybrid heating systems
  • Energy efficiency initiatives eg. waste heat utilisation, waste heat capture
  • Offsets – e.g. reafforestation

Theme 2. Residue

The global inventory of bauxite residue was estimated to be approaching 3 billion tonnes (Bt) in 2010, and to reach 8 Bt by 2040.

Residue storage is a long-term challenge for the industry because it remains the lowest economic cost management alternative in almost all settings & jurisdictions despite major costs in:

  • Land use
  • Environmental management
  • Reputation & community perception
  • Water management
  • Soda loss
  • Impoundment failure risk / disaster management
  • Opportunity loss – waste of potentially valuable resources,

As with decarbonisation, substantial reduction in Residue storage will not be achieved by continuous improvement – it will require revolutionary change driven by emerging social, economic and environmental realties to achieve the goal of no new residue storage by 2050, while securing the safety and environmental excellence of existing storage sites.

Theme 3. Water

As global water demand continues to increase, shortages of natural supply will become increasingly common throughout the world. The SDG Goal to: ‘Substantially increase water-use efficiency and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity’ addresses current and future water scarcity and provides general guidance to industry on a global basis. We aim to be zero consumers or positive contributors to fresh water supply in the regions in which we operate.

Theme 4. Emissions

Actual and potential emissions from alumina refineries include CO2, odour, VOCs, airborne toxics, caustic mists, visible steam and dusts to the air, and process liquors to water, ground and soil. The industry strives to maintain meet or exceed all applicable environmental, health and safety standards in relation to all emissions, including the commitment to zero CO2e to air by 2050, and to be in harmony with the communities in which it operates.

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