The Energy Renaissance — Boyne Island Smelter to go green
RIO TINTO IS A CORPORATION which has officially announced they will change the source of energy for their Boyne Island Smelter (shown above). Thankfully, Rio Tinto is one company who has stopped talking and committed. Don’t think that is an easy thing for a global corporation to do. Nor can one expect any good to come in doing a little something from much can anything good come. But in doing much can we win? Nor is one to expect to win the climate challenge easily or without much arduous work. They know that and I applaud them. Good one Rio Tinto! A bold decision will certainly inspire leaders in industry, society, and philanthropy. You as a business manager must understand why the executives are committing to massive change and putting their heart and soul on the line. They are giving everything to the climate challenge not because they want to, like no one wants to go into battle and be in harm’s way. They don’t want to do it, the motivation they feel is more complex and poetic. They put their heart and soul on the line for you (for all) because they must. They must save the world and that is a beautiful statement they make.
They give me and you, and other fellow business insiders, the change masters, a mandate to push it down and then make the change real at the work face. We must hear their call to arms. Then if you do one day you can wear the badge, wear it proudly; I save the world. Finally, (did you hear my sigh of relief) the leaders of the corporate world are handing out climate badges with real authority to me and you, the mining and mineral processing professionals, managers, and consultants. Badges of green authority make a difference when they come from companies like Rio Tinto.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote, and I say he was thinking of you and what you can do now:
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
THE PROBLEM AT BOYNE SMELTER is amplified by the 1000 MW of electricity the operation needs to make aluminum, making it the largest electricity customer in the state. Making aluminum is a power-hungry process. That electricity currently comes from a coal-fired power station near Gladstone. The deal was made to supply electricity at a competitive price long ago, set up in 1990 and financially supported by the Queensland Government. The contract guaranteed the operation a supply of cheap energy. Now the world is demanding they break that deal to meet aggressive emissions targets. There you have it. Before we move on, I forgot to mention the other issue; Gladstone Power Station is an old one, like many in this country, on its last legs and without the climate challenge it would be a bust, best we shut it down soon.
THE CLIMATE CHALLENGE is transforming consumer appetite. Everywhere across the world people demand Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) and that means for those who produce aluminum they need to not just do it with cheap power but with green power. The people demand green aluminum. That means Rio Tinto must find a new appropriate power source for Boyne Island to compete with other suppliers. How this problem is solved is not just crucial to Boyne Smelters' survival but the Queensland Government achieving its emissions targets of a 50% reduction by 2030. It goes to the heart of the climate challenge. When done the smelter powered by clean energy will set a precedent, showing the way for other industrial operators. Remember many big producers like the Russian have hydro power to use but not here in Queensland, we use emissions producing coal.
The aluminum production process at Boyne is called smelting and is done in several reduction lines, and in the process of casting the molten metal is made into aluminum products that are then ready to ship. The smelter is adjacent to, and connected via a conveyor belt, to the Queensland Alumina Limited refinery for the supply of alumina. The bauxite is shipped down from Weipa on Cape York. Where the 1.7MW Weipa solar farm operates. It feeds into the Weipa grid under a Power Purchase Agreement with Rio Tinto Aluminum. The solar farm is the first of a proposed two-stage project funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). The second stage includes additional solar generation with battery storage. Combined it is a massive industrial operation that has no plan to cease and is already in transition to clean energy. Do you love it? Good news for a change.
I WILL NOT CEASE from mental fight nor shall my sword sleep in my hand until we have revived our green and pleasant land (from the song Jerusalem taken from a poem by William Blake called Milton). I do like how the song makes me feel better. I feel good while singing those inspiring words of affirmation and a positive attitude is how one must face the climate challenge. I don’t know what the lyrics meant to the people living in the early 1800’s (when it was written) or to Blake but one can imagine not all were happy with the scars from a growing industry and its brutal effects. The simple farmer who left his land for factory, or the rambler walking in the disappearing wood by a blackened stream. None like smoke and degradation, not then and not now. Why do we put up with what we don’t want? I believe that it is time ladies and gentlemen to think deeply about that, is the world how you want it. If not don’t talk, but do, even fight for what you want.
I believe that there are two types of people in this world and while I do have time for talkers and thinkers, I do enough of it myself. I prefer those others, the ones who do. What I wish to talk about again is what action you can take now as a participant in the climate challenge.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
And what Gandhi meant is when we have only a little time, but an understanding of what action will win the climate challenge then one can take swift action, the sort one takes when one’s life is threatened. He was talking to those who can make a difference if they act, like you, who know their business can make our world stronger. I want you to think about what you should do right now. If you were to die tomorrow, would you right now give the order to close your dark satanic mills (as Blake described industry).
THE CLIMATE CHALLENGE is an old foe. Nature often has turned on us humans in storms and in tempests and in defiance we endured. I believe today's floods and fires remind us of threats from long ago, before these modern days. Hidden in our collective subconscious are images of terrifying floods, fires, heat waves, droughts, the gushing fiord flooded by melting ice. The list is long. We see those difficult images daily on a screen and recall desperate struggle from eons of collective experience.
So why don’t you act, the people say to you, their business leader, when they feel fear. A feeling is primal fear that angers the mob, your customers. The mob is now rising, and you must answer them. If you don’t implement environmental and social governance (ESG), they will find someone who will. Remember you can’t fool them anymore, advocation is not action. Nor do you do any good nor take a step forward by just having an inclusive policy. Action that can be publicly displayed will tell shareholders exactly what they want to know. Nothing happens without making it happen. I am pleased to say some take up the fight. Think of them those inspiring leaders and follow them.
ESG is more than ticking boxes. It’s about making a difference — for your business and our world. Creating sustained outcomes that drive value and fuel growth, whilst strengthening our environment and societies. Our passion flows over, and we must demonstrate to our community we the professionals and leaders, that we have this, the climate challenge they rely on us. Otherwise, who are we but fraudulent tricksters? We are their solvers, the problem solvers who they pay to combine real world experience with commitment to change. Business as usual must morph into new ways of thinking and doing. It is time to think out of the box. People and technology are working together to find solutions larger than today.
THE UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND published a report “Roadmap to renewable energy for Boyne Island”. It was from the Centre for Future Studies and published in 2019. The preferred option recommended is variable renewable energy (VRE) coupled with Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES) to manage baseload. That option comes at a cost of under $60/MWh, and sources energy from the grid (from contracted renewable sources) but has 5 hours of storage available for dispatch when neither PV nor wind energy is available. LAES storage could also be used for grid stability, renewable energy time shifting, demand response and synchronous inertia. Rio Tinto has announced it will spend $10 Billion on this and other similar transformations for operations in the smelting portfolio. Clearly the time of talking is over, and the time of action has begun.
The study must become a practical plan that achieves actual results because time is critical. Success is not found in waiting. Action is bringing together your best people and smartest technology so you can see more, go deeper and act swiftly. Enabling you to tackle the biggest challenges of today — and capture the best opportunities of tomorrow.
WE ALL KNOW the climate challenge is the most pressing problem facing our world today. It affects everyone. Will impact those not yet born. I am asking you to say I am saving the world. Take the climate challenge pledge. Say I shall not rest until we win. It is in the interests of everyone that we see systemic change that averts climate catastrophe and unlocks the potential of green growth. It is the business community that has a key role in making that happen.