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Environmental issues have become paramount in metal production
09.23.2013
As the global aluminium remains oversupplied and the prices of raw materials and electricity continue to rise, aluminium companies all over the world are being forced to pay more attention to modern production processes that promise to cut production costs and reduce the environmental footprint of aluminium production. This was the topic of the interview UC RUSAL's Technical Director Victor Mann gave.

What interesting projects is UC RUSAL going to present at the ICSOBA conference that is currently being held in Krasnoyarsk?

The project to refine the Soderberg process. It's essential for UC RUSAL because today about 70% of our production capacity uses the Soderberg process.

How long have these efforts been underway and at what stage are they in now?а

This project was launched in 2005. Today we've already completed testing the upgraded process at KrAZ, having introduced it in four potrooms. In 2014, KrAZ and BrAZ will begin to gradually replace all their existing reduction cells with Green Soderberg cells. The transition process should take about 4-4.5 years.

You also had a project in the works where you wanted to find a way to process red mud.

We're developing a new production process where bauxites are used to produce not only alumina but also a number of new products. The result is less production waste and production waste at an alumina refinery is essentially what is known as red mud. In this case what we're talking about is diversification of production rather than a new way to dispose of waste.

We're currently working on new production processes for making agglomeration supplements for ferrous metal production. We believe that these products will be in high demand among ferrous metal producers.

As a result, by how much will the output of red mud be reduced?

By about 30% during the first stage, in the end we expect a drop in red mud output of 50-70%. Actually, ferrous metal producers can potentially utilise all our waste products, eventually bringing down to zero the amount of red mud we have to handle.

However, we are also working on ways to recover other useful elements from red mud; namely, rare earth metals.а

At what stage of development are we, in finding new applications for white mud?

On one hand, it's already been proven that roads built using white mud have far better quality than roads that use traditional materials. Road builders, on the other hand, are in no particular hurry to change their technologies.

Is this a waste processing project, or is the focus more on developing a new type of product as is the case with red mud?

This project is purely about waste processing, and if road builders agree to go along with it, we'll supply them with enough white mud for all the roads in Russia.

UC RUSAL has on many occasions said it was working on a completely new aluminium production process based on the use of inert anodes that completely eliminates emissions of harmful contaminants. What's the progress of this project?

There are three stages that new developments undergo. The first stage is laboratory tests. The second is where technical solutions are developed, and prototypes are built. The third stage is industrial trials. As far as inert anodes are concerned, we're currently completing stage two.

UC RUSAL has also for many years been talking about developing aluminium zirconium wire rod for the cable industry. Have there been any changes in the Company's plans to take over the cable market?а

The project is moving forward. Today we already make this wire rod and cable makers have already made wires from it. A feasibility study has been drafted, and equipment is being purchased.

Are these wires a unique invention of UC RUSAL?

There are companies outside of Russia working on such wires, but in Russia we are the first. Now the ball is in the Federal Grid Company's court. At this time, they are purchasing similar wires from Poland. Our plan is to prove, as soon as this year, that our wires are the best.

What measures is the company taking to reduce its main production costs?

We're looking at ways on how to develop hybrid pitch and make anode production cheaper.

How much of this type of raw material do you need?

With an output of 4 million tonnes of aluminium per year we consume about 2 million tonnes of anode paste, that is coke and pitch. The share of pitch is 25% or about 500 thousand tonnes per year, which makes up three fourths of all the coke produced in Russia every year.

How do you make your hybrid pitch?

Actually, all pitches used in metal production are made from coal tar, a derivative of coal.

Where do you currently buy pitch?

In China, but as their aluminium industry is expanding we now have to pay more for it.

Aluminium production consumes a lot of energy. What studies are being carried out on improving energy efficiency?

Special attention is being devoted to our new reduction cell designs RA-300 and RA-400, and we're also working on fine-tuning the Soderberg process.

An important environmental aspect is how fast, waste disposal areas get filled up. Is anything being done to make waste disposal areas last longer by reducing the amount of waste that has to be disposed of?

We are currently working on a new technology that will allow us to recycle reduction cell lining. The new lining recycling process is currently undergoing industrial trials.

Apart from reducing the pace at which disposal areas are getting filled up how else will UC RUSAL benefit from it?

There are several reasons why we're working on this project. One of them is environmental standards because if we are to meet them we have to introduce new production processes that save resources. The third is that, finally, we will have a material (brown coal half coke) that we hope will enable us to introduce this project on an industrial scale.

We estimate that it will reduce the costs of cathode installation by 10-15% while cutting the amount of production waste we have to dump in disposal areas by 25%.

Where are the trials being carried out?

At the Sayanogorsk aluminium smelter.

Does the Company's R&D only focus on aluminium production?

We are also trying to improve efficiency in the production of other products that we need to make alloys. For example, at the moment we are implementing a project to increase silicon recovery by 5% while keeping the consumption of raw materials and electricity at the same level. A project aiming to optimise electricity use has been developed and is currently undergoing trials. At this stage, I can already say that we will probably reduce our electricity wastage by 200-300 kW while increasing silicon recovery.

We are also working on ways to use cheap Russian brown coal instead of the expensive Colombian coal that we currently use in silicon production.

What are the Company's demands for this expensive coal from Columbia, and why isn't' it possible to replace them with other coal?

We need about 50 thousand tonnes every year. Columbian coal has very low content of iron and ash so they can be used as a reducing agent in the production of high grade silicon. This means that we can't just replace them with brown coal as the latter has too much iron, moisture, and too many volatiles in it, plus it's not strong enough.

Have you discussed these issues with coal suppliers?

We are currently working on this project in cooperation with the SUEK coal company.а

Author:  Victor Mann