Elysis, the joint venture company led by Alcoa and Rio Tinto, started construction on the first commercial-scale prototype cells using its proprietary inert anode technology. The demonstration cells are being installed at Rio Tinto’s Alma smelter in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec. The new technology is said to eliminate all direct greenhouse gases from the aluminum smelting process.
“This is a great day for Elysis,” said Vincent Christ, CEO of Elysis. “It means that we are becoming the first technology company in the world to build commercial-size inert anode cells.”
Inert Anode Technology
The Elysis™ technology has been designed to address the global trend towards producing low carbon footprint products — from mobile phones to cars, planes, and building materials. This breakthrough inert anode technology eliminates all direct greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the traditional smelting process and instead produces oxygen.
This offers the potential to transform the aluminum industry, with a significant reduction in its carbon footprint. In Canada alone, the Elysis technology could reduce GHG emissions by 7 million tons, the equivalent of removing 1.8 million cars from the roads.
The new inert anode process will also be able to reduce the operating costs of aluminum smelters, while increasing production capacity. The company plans to license the cell technology, which can be implemented in both new and existing aluminum smelters. In addition, Elysis will sell next-generation anode and cathode materials, which will last more than 30 times longer than traditional components.
Elysis is working closely with Alcoa’s Technical Center, where the zero-carbon smelting technology was invented, and the Rio Tinto technology design team in France in order to further develop the technology.
The inert anode prototype cells will operate on a commercial scale typical for large modern aluminum smelters, using an electrical current of 450 kA. The cells are being installed at the end of an existing potline within the Alma smelter to demonstrate the technology’s effectiveness at a commercial scale in an industrial operating environment. This will build on ongoing work at the nearby Elysis Industrial Research and Development Centre, also located in the Saguenay region.
“While we refine the technology in our R&D Centre, we [are starting] the construction of our prototype cells,” said Christ. “This shows our confidence in our process and in the know-how of our team. The combination of Elysis’ zero CO2 technology and Quebec’s renewable energy will be a great competitive advantage for the future.”
The demonstration project has received support from the local government. A C$20 million investment from the government of Quebec helped to bring forward the start of work at the site. The Canadian government is providing an additional C$20 million to support the project. The federal government’s financial support will enable the creation of a unique commercial size inert anode technology showroom for future customers. Both financial contributions will also help develop the supply chain by involving local and regional equipment manufacturers and suppliers in the project.
“The investment announced today will help Canada’s world-class aluminum producers become leading players in the low-carbon economy and support key local players throughout the supply chain,” said Honorable Francois-Philippe Champagne, minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. “We are proud to support Elysis in developing the world’s first carbon-free aluminum that will help Canada achieve its net-zero objective by 2050. This investment will foster innovation, create good jobs here in Quebec and help support the future competitiveness of Canada’s aluminum industry.”
Elysis plans to complete the technology demonstration by 2024, which will be followed by commercialization activities.