Rio Tinto has announced a substantial investment of $1.1bn (C$1.4bn) to enhance its cutting-edge AP60 aluminium smelter at Complexe Jonquière in Canada. This state-of-the-art facility boasts advanced low-carbon technology. The Quebec government will provide financial assistance amounting to $113m as part of the overall investment. This expansion project will be carried out in conjunction with the phased closure of potrooms at the Arvida smelter on the same premises. By undertaking this expansion, Rio Tinto aims to fulfil the increasing demand from customers for eco-friendly, top-quality aluminium suitable for diverse applications such as transportation, construction, electrical equipment, and consumer goods.

With this investment, Rio Tinto plans to introduce 96 additional AP60 pots, which will substantially boost the production capacity by approximately 160,000 metric tonnes of primary aluminium annually. This increased capacity will be sufficient to manufacture around 400,000 electric cars. Consequently, the total number of AP60 pots will reach 134, enabling a total capacity of roughly 220,000 tonnes per year. The construction phase is estimated to span two and a half years, with the commissioning of the new pots anticipated to commence in the first half of 2026. The smelter is expected to be fully operational and operating at its maximum capacity by the end of 2026. Once the expansion is completed, the enhanced smelter is projected to achieve a favourable position within the industry’s cost curve, ranking in the first quartile.

The increased capacity resulting from the investment will help offset the loss of 170,000 tonnes of capacity due to the gradual closure of potrooms at the Arvida smelter, starting from 2024. Furthermore, Rio Tinto has plans to introduce an additional 30,000 tonnes of capacity by launching a recycling facility at Arvida, which is scheduled to commence operations in the first quarter of 2025. These facilities will play a vital role in ensuring that Rio Tinto’s casting facilities at Complexe Jonquière continue to provide value-added products that cater to the specific needs of their customers. This includes the integration of recycled post-consumer aluminium into primary aluminium alloys, highlighting their commitment to sustainability and the utilization of recycled materials.

The AP60 smelting technology, pioneered by Rio Tinto’s Research and Development teams, stands as one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly technologies in commercial use. When combined with the utilisation of hydropower at Rio Tinto’s Canadian operations, this technology contributes to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, it generates only one seventh of the greenhouse gases per tonne of aluminium compared to the industry average, and half the emissions when compared to the technology currently employed at the Arvida smelter.

As a result of this expansion project, there will be a substantial boost in employment opportunities. During the peak of construction, the project is expected to create up to 1,000 jobs. Moreover, approximately 100 permanent jobs will be maintained once the expanded smelter becomes fully operational, providing ongoing employment opportunities for the local workforce.

Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm said: “This investment is aligned with our strategy to decarbonise our value chains and grow in materials essential for the energy transition. Our AP60 technology is already proven and producing some of the lowest carbon aluminium in the world, thanks to the expertise of our highly qualified workforce and access to renewable hydropower. This is the most significant investment in our aluminium business for more than a decade and it will further strengthen Rio Tinto’s high-quality and low-carbon offering to our customers as they also work to reduce their own carbon footprint.

“I would like to thank both the Government of Canada and Government of Quebec for their support in progressing this project. We are also continuing to work together on the future implementation of the ELYSISTM zero carbon smelting technology at our Quebec facilities.”

Quebec Premier François Legault said: “A great momentum is building in our regions for our green economy. The aluminium industry in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean has always been a real source of pride and has created considerable wealth in the region. Today’s announcement will breathe new life into this industry with greener, less polluting processes. The use of AP60 pots will halve GHG emissions in aluminium production. With the upcoming ELYSISTM technology, Quebec aims to become the world champion of green aluminium.”

Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne said: “Canada has all it takes to be the global green supplier of choice. And that is why our government is collaborating with key industry actors like Rio Tinto to produce the world’s greenest aluminium. By supporting the production of green metals, we ensure Canada will remain at the forefront of the economy of tomorrow. When economic benefits are paired with a commitment to developing green solutions, it’s a win for our industry, our cleantech ecosystem and our workers.”

Apart from the investment in low-carbon aluminium, Rio Tinto is actively collaborating with the Governments of Canada and Quebec to implement the ELYSISTM zero carbon aluminium smelting technology at its facilities in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean. The aim is to deploy this innovative technology, which offers carbon-free aluminium production, in the near future.

Currently, ELYSIS is on a development pathway with plans to make its technology available for installation by 2024. Following that, it anticipates the production of larger volumes of carbon-free aluminium approximately two years later.

Rio Tinto and the Government of Canada have recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that signifies their shared dedication to enhancing supply chains for low-carbon primary metals, critical minerals, and other value-added products. This agreement underscores their commitment to strengthening cooperation in various areas.

The cooperation aims to support projects that have the potential to expand Rio Tinto’s operations in Canada. This includes initiatives focused on the current and future decarbonisation of the aluminium supply chain, as well as other ventures that align with sustainable practices and environmental objectives.

It is important to note that the investment in the AP60 smelter, including the expansion and low-carbon technology implementation, is already accounted for as replacement capital expenditure within Rio Tinto’s capital investment guidance for the period of 2023 to 2025. The capital expenditure guidance for Rio Tinto, set at $9bn to $10bn in both 2024 and 2025, remains unchanged despite this investment.