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Rio Tinto invests $51m in Canadian alumina refinery

Vaudreuil alumina refinery is located in Québec’s Saguenay region. (Image courtesy of Rio Tinto.)

The world’s second-largest miner, Rio Tinto, (ASX, LON: RIO) is investing $51 million in upgrading facilities at its Vaudreuil alumina refinery in Québec, Canada.

The company said three new energy efficient buildings are under construction and existing facilities will be rearranged to provide close to 400 employees with a centralized control room, offices and common areas.

The project, expected to be completed in early 2021, aims to improve employee safety and optimize operations at the Saguenay region’s plant, built in 1936.

Rio has already awarded more than half the planned investment to companies in the Saguenay – Lac-St-Jean region such as Proco, with more contracts to be granted in the coming months. 

Two years ago, the company vowed to invest C$250 million to extend the life of the operation past 2022. The plan included the construction of a filtration plant on site to manage bauxite waste.

The residue, known as red mud, is left over after extracting the alumina from the bauxite and can include small amounts of toxic metals like arsenic and lead.

Circular economy

The plant will also be used to make cement out of the smelting process leftover in an effort to promote circular economy initiatives, Rio said earlier this month.

In partnership with Geocycle Canada and leading construction materials Lafarge Canada, Rio has created a new product called Alextra. The new development, made from used potlining, is a result of the aluminum electrolysis process that would otherwise go to landfill, the company said.

Rio Tinto is the only primary aluminum producer in North America to process its industrial residue into an inert by-product.