stacks of aluminum billets with a forklift in the forefront
Photo courtesy of Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto investment expands aluminum billet production

The company’s Alma smelter in Quebec will increase low-carbon aluminum billet production by 202,000 metric tons.

July 14, 2022

Rio Tinto, a metals and mining company headquartered in London, says it is investing $188 million (CA$240 million) to increase production capacity for low-carbon emissions, aluminum billets at its Alma smelter in Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec, by 202,000 metric tons. The investment does not include additional smelting capacity but instead focuses on transforming more of the metal already produced at the plant’s pot rooms into value-added products, the company adds. 

The aluminum billets will be made from primary aluminum and contain no recycled content, says Malika Cherry, a Rio Tinto media relations advisor. She adds, “Rio Tinto’s aluminum in Québec is 100 percent produced with hydropower,” making it one of the world’s lowest-carbon aluminum products.

The existing casting center at Rio Tinto's Alma plant will be expanded to add new equipment, including a casting pit and furnaces, the company says. Construction will begin in May 2023, after completing detailed engineering and preliminary work, and commissioning is expected in the first quarter of 2025.

Global demand for aluminum extrusion products is expected to grow at an average rate of roughly 3 percent per year over the next 10 years, driven by the energy transition and decarbonization, the company says, citing data from London-based Cru.

The investment will strengthen the supply chain in North America and allow Rio Tinto to be more agile and flexible to respond to growing demand from North American manufacturers for a variety of high-value-added products, primarily in the automotive and construction industries. The aluminum billets can be used to make various products, including bumpers and roof rails for cars as well as doors and window frames.

The investment is expected to generate nearly $160 million (CA$200 million) in economic benefits for Quebec and to create nearly 40 new permanent jobs and help to support the 770 existing jobs at the Alma plant, Rio Tinto says.

Sébastien Ross, managing director of Rio Tinto Aluminum's Atlantic operations, says, “This expansion of our low-carbon aluminum billet production capacity in Quebec will allow us to better meet our customer’s growing demand for high-quality alloys and value-added products made with renewable hydroelectricity. This new capacity will help to strengthen the position of our Alma smelter, and we are proud to work with our employees, clients, Quebec equipment manufacturers and partners to bring this much-anticipated project to fruition.”

Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne says, “Along with significant economic benefits, Rio Tinto's investment will see more jobs and more growth in our country while cementing Canada’s position as a global leader in the low carbon economy.”

Quebec Minister of Economy and Innovation and Regional Economic Development Pierre Fitzgibbon adds, “In Quebec, we produce the greenest aluminum in the world. Modernization projects such as this one will enable us to maintain our leadership position in this area and contribute to the growth of this strategic sector. We have always said that the environment can and must serve the economy. The Rio Tinto project is a perfect example."