Rio Tinto Pacific Operations Hydrogen Program

June 28th, 2021

Rio Tinto Pacific Operations Hydrogen Program

Rio Tinto is undertaking a feasibility study investigating the use of clean hydrogen to partially decarbonise alumina refining at its Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone, Queensland.

Main proponents:

Rio Tinto

Main end-use classification:

Industrial process – refining


Under development – feasibility study

Estimated cost:

Feasibility study – AUD$1.16 million

Other involvement:


Production details:

Under evaluation


Queensland, Australia

Announced funding:

AUD$580,000 – Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA)

AUD$580,000 – Rio Tinto

Project description

Rio Tinto owns and operates the Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone, Queensland. The refinery produces more than three million tonnes of alumina per year, which is exported to Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific region.

Creating alumina, the main ingredient in aluminium, requires large amounts of energy. The Bayer refining process used by alumina refineries globally involves several steps, of the which the final stage is calcination (essentially the heating of solids to a high temperature for the purpose of removing impurities or volatile substances). Calcination heats alumina hydrate from the preceding precipitation step at temperatures exceeding 1,000˚C to form anhydrous alumina. Calcination is an energy-intensive process, for which the current predominant fuel is natural gas.

The feasibility study will evaluate the prospective use of clean hydrogen to replace natural gas in the calcination process.

Technical evaluation activities will be undertaken through two distinct work packages:

  • Simulating the calcination process using a laboratory scale reactor at Rio Tinto’s Bundoora Technical Development Centre in Melbourne, Victoria.
  • Preliminary engineering and design studies conducted at Rio Tinto’s  Yarwun facility to understand the construction and operational requirements of a potential demonstration project at the refinery.

Complementary to this ARENA supported study, in August 2021, Rio Tinto and Sumitomo Corporation announced a partnership to study the construction of a hydrogen pilot plant at Rio Tinto’s Yarwun alumina refinery and which provides the potential for larger scale implementation of hydrogen if the various studies are successful.


June 2021: ARENA announced up to AUD$580,000 in funding to Rio Tinto to support a feasibility study investigating the potential to partially decarbonise its alumina refining operations using renewable hydrogen.


This description is based on publicly available information as at August 2021.