Alcoa looks to first MVR advantage for greener alumina

Alcoa has been awarded $11.3 million in Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) funding to support a $28.2 million project demonstrating renewable energy in process heat for alumina refining.

The project at Alcoa’s Wagerup, Western Australia site will be the first in the country deploying Mechanical Vapour Recompression (MVR) for alumina production.

Refining uses high-pressure steam in converting bauxite into alumina, and the energy needed for this represents 70 per cent of all fossil fuels used in alumina-making. In Australia, alumina production represented 24 per cent of all scope 1 manufacturing emissions in 2019.

“MVR recompresses waste steam that would otherwise be exhausted to the atmosphere and recycles it in the refining process, explains a statement from ARENA.

The project’s main objective is to demonstrate the technical and commercial feasibility of using MVR powered by renewable energy for process heat. 

“Stage 1 of the project will investigate the feasibility of integrating MVR at the refinery. If proven feasible, for Stage 2 of the project, Alcoa will deliver a 3 MW MVR module, powered using renewable energy at the Wagerup Alumina Refinery,” said ARENA.

Australia is among the world’s top alumina producers, with an estimated 15 per cent of global refining capacity. It is also the top exporter of bauxite.

Alcoa operates six alumina refineries in the country. The three in WA — at Kwinana, Pinjarra and Wagerup — represent “the world’s biggest single source of alumina, able to supply eight percent of the global market” according to its website.


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