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I Like Smoke & Lightning, Heavy Metal Thunder, Part 2

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John Benson 75109
Senior Consultant Microgrid Labs

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Microgrid Labs, Inc. Advisor: 2014 to Present Developed product plans, conceptual and preliminary designs for projects, performed industry surveys and developed...

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  • Jan 11, 2022
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This paper is the second in a series about the metals industrial subsector, how these industries use energy and how they are evolving. There are several pieces of new news regarding the iron/steel and aluminum sectors in this industry. These will be covered in this part.

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Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Jan 11, 2022

John's paper reports that "Alcoa and Rio Tinto have partnered to develop a carbon-free aluminum smelting process that replaces the traditional carbon anode with a ceramic one, eliminating the resulting CO 2 emissions." Unfortunately "partnered to develop" doesn't mean much by itself. Efforts to develop inert (non-consumable) anodes for aluminum production have been on-going since the Hall-Heroult process first made aluminum production industrially feasible. It's been a high-priority research goal supported by the DOE since 1996. Hall himself experimented with copper anodes. They work for a while, but the copper dissolves into the molten cryolite too quickly for copper anodes to be practical. The best candidates to date, AFAIK, have been proprietary ceramic formulations containing copper. Something along that line is undoubtedly what Alcoa and Rio Tinto have "partnered to develop". How far they've progressed toward commercial deployment remains to be seen.

 

The stakes in this game are very high. Successful development of an inert anode -- along with a wettable cathode to go with it -- really would make a big difference in the cost and efficiency of primary aluminum production. And it would indeed save tens of millions of tons per year of CO2 emissions. What's more, it would open the door for aluminum to become a far superior alternative to hydrogen for long term energy storage.

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John Benson on Jan 12, 2022

Thanks for the additional information, Roger.

I know virtually nothing about refining aluminum. One of our best customers when I worked for Landis & Gyr Systems was ALCAN, but that was just hydroelectric and T&D, nothing involving refining.

However, I do know that much underlying material science has been done on other devices that involve anodes and cathodes. Thus, there is hope that a breakthrough will help Alcoa and Rio Tinto solve the problem you pose above.

-John

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