The Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy's energy enterprise, Enova SF, has pledged NOK 1.55 billion in investment backing for a pilot to trial Hydro's new aluminium production technology. Provided the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) approves the investment, the subsidy will help to ensure that future production of aluminium will be both more energy-efficient and climate-friendly.
"The reason we decided to back this project is because, following thorough assessments, we found that the proposed technology holds immense potential. Projections indicate high demand for aluminium in the years ahead, not least in the transport sector. This makes it crucial for production to be based on the lowest possible energy consumption and the lowest possible greenhouse gas emissions," says Enova's CEO, Nils Kristian Nakstad.
Energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions
With its low mass, aluminium is a key resource in enabling the automotive industry to manufacture less energy-intensive and more climate-friendly cars. Against that, the production of aluminium is associated with high energy consumption and heavy greenhouse gas emissions.
"This technology responds to part of this challenge in that it has the potential to radically reduce energy consumption and thereby greenhouse gas emissions," says Enova's CEO.
The pilot plant could be on stream by 2017 at the earliest. With the aid of 60 new electrolytic cells, the full-scale pilot plant would potentially be able to produce around 70,000 tonnes of aluminium per annum. If the pilot yields the results Hydro is hoping for, the new technology will be applied in further ventures both in Norway and internationally. With the pilot and infrastructure built up at Karmøy, there is every chance that the first facility to apply the technology production-wide will remain located at this Norwegian site. If so, estimates indicate that energy consumption would be reduced by a full 0.5 TWh, based on a production capacity of 320,000 tonnes per annum, compared with the energy demands if Hydro were to use current technology.
"By giving an energy-intensive industry the opportunity to establish new, energy-efficient production in Norway, in this particular instance, we will be doing our bit to enable aluminium production to run purely on hydroelectricity as opposed to coal and natural gas which produce massive carbon emissions. In other words, this is good news for both the global climate and Norwegian industry," says Nakstad.
For Norwegian production facilities that largely run on clean energy already, greenhouse emissions would be reduced by 5 per cent. But if the technology replaces production currently sited abroad where the energy source is typically coal and natural gas, the resulting emissions reductions will be vast. Globally, carbon emissions from an aluminium plant average 7.3 kg per produced kilo of aluminium - but that excludes China, where the same figure is almost double. Emissions from the Karmøy pilot in Norway, however, would be less than 1.5 kg of carbon dioxide per kilo of aluminium, if the production facilities run on clean energy only.
Enova SF has commended Hydro for the initiative.
"This technology may represent a quantum leap for aluminium production worldwide. Norway has a number of advantages that make it an ideal arena for developing new energy and climate technologies. Hydro is an industrial locomotive and is once again steaming ahead", says Enova's CEO.
He believes the project confirms that Norway and Norwegian industry could potentially have a key role to play in international climate efforts.
"This case in point demonstrates that Enova SF, through its climate technology fund, is a facilitator for a range of beneficial projects with huge international scope for diffusion. In this particular project, Norwegian industry's core expertise and access to clean and low-cost energy will be used in getting the world's aluminium production moving in the right direction. Under the Norwegian Parliamentary Climate Agreement, Enova SF was commissioned to facilitate Norway's development of climate technology. Enova SF is registering great interest from Norwegian and international players who are keen to partner with us to make industry cleaner.
Nakstad stresses that the Karmøy project faces a few hurdles ahead of the finishing line. First, the EFTA's supervisory body, ESA, which is well informed of the project, has to grant its approval. Next will be Hydro's final decision on whether or not to go ahead with the investment in the pilot.
"Like us, Hydro, which will cover the greater share of the investment, has great confidence in this project, and we have high hopes that it will go ahead," says Nakstad.