Rio Tinto Alcan AP-Xe aluminium smelting technology to offer up to 20% reduction in energy consumption

Rio Tinto Alcan announced today at the TMS 2008 Conference in New Orleans, USA that it has begun development on the next generation of its AP Technology series. To be called AP-Xe, this new technology could potentially lead to a step change in energy consumption of up to 20% along with a reduced environmental impact and improved full economic cost.Jacynthe Côté, president, Primary Metal, Rio Tinto Alcan: “In a world increasingly concerned with climate change and the environmental impact of industrial growth, this new technology promises a potential breakthrough. The development of a greener, more energy efficient production process, combined with aluminium’s well-established attributes such as light weight and recyclability, makes for a winning combination. The AP-Xe will provide us with the technology we need for future generations of greenfield and brownfield expansions.”

AP-Xe will be developed in phases, including a potentially workable ‘drained cathode, that, taken together with other portfolio technologies under development, could result in a lowering of unit energy consumption by up to 20%. This technology is designed to be retrofitted to previous AP series cells. While the maximum energy consumption savings are expected from greenfield applications, significant savings could also be achieved in retrofitted cells.

Drained cathode cells are already under test on an industrial scale and the immediate next phase will be the progressive start-up of a 10-cell AP30 test section at Rio Tinto Alcan’s site in St-Jean-de-Maurienne, France. If successful, an industrial scale-up of this aluminium technology could begin within five years.

“While we continue to develop and improve our highly successful and environmentally responsible AP30 aluminium technology platform, and move forward with the recently announced pilot for AP50 in Quebec, Canada, we are devoting a large portion of our R&D to the development of future generations of our AP Technology,” continued Côté. This new initiative will be supported by Rio Tinto Alcan’s global technology and R&D network. “The goal of this AP-Xe aluminium technology is to significantly reduce and eventually eliminate emissions while achieving a step change in energy consumption,” stated Don Macmillan, VP, Technology and Operational Excellence, Rio Tinto Alcan Primary Metal. “With the first metal from the AP50 pilot plant project expected in Quebec in 2010, we are also looking beyond this to the first AP-Xe proof-of-concept cells to be built at our centre in St-Jean-de-Maurienne, where initial work is already underway.”

This AP-Xe development clearly manifests Rio Tinto Alcan’s intention to maintain its leadership in aluminium technology. With approximately 7,500 AP Technology cells in operation around the world today, representing some 6 Mt of installed capacity, AP Technology is a global leader. Facilities reaching close to 1 Mt more are under construction with, in addition, 7 Mt in various stages of evaluation, either internal to Rio Tinto Alcan or with potential partners or licensees.