Rio Tinto restarts NZ aluminium smelter operation

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern (R) attends the official reopening of Potline 4. Image: Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto has reopened Potline 4 at New Zealand’s Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) at Tiwai Point on the South Island.

The mining major believes there are significant enhancements in the competitiveness of the smelter. The restart is initiated by a strong market for NZAS’ product and a partnership with Meridian Energy to provide additional clean hydro energy until 2022.

Rio Tinto, with Sumitomo Chemical Company, invested $4.1 million this year to restart and upgrade the potline to 31,000 tonnes of additional production capacity.

NZAS produced nearly 34,000 tonnes of aluminium in 2017. But the potline was shut down in 2012 due to historically low aluminium prices and higher energy cost across the industry.

Rio Tinto Aluminium chief operating officer for Pacific Operations Kellie Parker said, “Expanding the production capacity at NZAS will allow us to meet the demand from customers for the value added products made here.

“Restarting this potline will increase the smelter’s production capacity by around 10 per cent and, with increased orders for other products, has created 45 jobs.”

Rio became the first company in the industry to produce aluminium under the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative after its product was certified in Canada. Once NZAS is also certified, its product will be available to customers in all markets.

According to NZAS chief executive and general manager Stew Hamilton, NZAS produces aluminium with one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world.

“This is incredibly important to many of our manufacturing customers and helps them to meet the expectations of consumers buying products like computers, cars, food and drinks,” Hamilton said.

NZAS is a joint venture between partners Rio and Sumitomo, with a split interest of 79.36 per cent and 20.64 per cent respectively.