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Rio Tinto to expand aluminum smelter with $1.4B investment using greener technology

June 12, 2023 | By The Canadian Press

SAGUENAY, Que. – Rio Tinto said Monday it will make a $1.4-billion investment to expand an aluminum smelter equipped with low-carbon technology in Saguenay, Que.

The Anglo-Australian metals and mining giant said it plans to build 96 new pots that use the greener AP60 smelter technology at its Jonquiere Complex adjacent to the 97-year-old Arivda aluminum smelter.

The announcement could ease anxiety over jobs ahead of that plant’s closure in 2025, and gives more weight to Rio Tinto’s claim to being a producer of green aluminum, with the newer facilities emitting half the greenhouse gas emissions than the older potlines nearby.

“This is Rio Tinto’s largest investment in Quebec, but also in the West, for a decade,” Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm said at a news conference on Monday.


The company had built 38 AP60 tanks at the Jonquiere Complex in 2013, but low aluminum prices prompted it to postpone a decision to add more.

The pending shutdown of Arvida is poised to impact between 300 and 350 employees. The new facilities will create 100 permanent jobs, Rio Tinto said.

However, the company has a project underway at its plant in Alma, Que. – about 40 kilometres upriver from Saguenay – which produces aluminum billets and aims to add 45 more jobs.

The potential development of Rio Tinto’s new carbon-neutral Elysis technology in the region could also require hiring.

“We will work to do this in a harmonious way, and ideally not having to lay off anyone,” said Sebastien Ross, managing director of Rio Tinto Aluminum’s Atlantic operations.

The province has pledged $150 million in funding support for the new smelter facilities.

Quebec Energy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said the forgivable loan will be conditional on maintaining jobs. Details of the agreement have yet to be finalized.

Donat Pearson, president of the Arvida National Aluminum Employees Union, welcomed the “long-awaited” announcement.

“For me, it’s a day of celebration,” he said.

The investment at the Jonquiere Complex roughly 200 kilometres north of Quebec City would eventually churn out 220,000 tonness of primary aluminum per year, over 360 per cent more than its current output, Rio Tinto said. The volume would also exceed Arvida’s 170,000-tonne production level.

The amount could furnish enough for 400,000 electric cars, it said, though the total falls short of the 400,000-tonne smelter that was pledged in 2006 by former owner Alcan Inc. which was acquired by Rio Tinto.


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