South32 boosts Brazil green aluminum supply with bauxite mine buy

A worker handling bauxite at the Mineração Rio do Norto mine in Brazil. Credit: Mineração Rio do Norto.

Australia’s South32 (LSE: S32; ASX: S32) is on track to double its green aluminum production in Brazil by early 2023 with the acquisition of an 18.2% stake in the Mineração Rio do Norto (MRN) bauxite mine from Alcoa Corp. (NYSE: AA).

The transaction represents a crucial step for the company in consolidating its vertically integrated aluminum supply chain in Brazil, bringing South32’s holdings in the MRN mine to 33%.

The attributable production from the Pará state operation is expected to satisfy the company’s internal bauxite requirements. In addition to South32’s 33% stake in the MRN mine, it holds a 36% share of the Alumar alumina refinery and a 40% stake in the aluminum smelter.

MRN’s open-cut strip mine produces 18 million tonnes of bauxite a year, supplying the Alumar refinery (capacity of 3.5 million tonnes per annum) and smelter (440,000 tonnes per year).

South32 CEO Graham Kerr said in a news release that the increased stake in the mine was an essential step as the company worked with its joint venture partners to complete a pre-feasibility study (PFS) for the MRN life extension project. The redevelopment project could potentially extend the life of the 40-year-old mine by more than 20 years.

The PFS is slated for completion by the first half of 2023.

“As a result of our investment in Brazil, including participation in the restart of the Alumar smelter using 100% renewable power, our planned increased shareholding in Mozal aluminum, which benefits from access to hydroelectric power, we expect to double our production of green aluminum by 2023,” said Kerr.

In January South32 announced plans to participate in the restart of the Aluminar smelter along with joint venture partner Alcoa. The smelter is expected to reach full capacity from its three potlines of 447,000 tonnes per annum in the first quarter of 2023. The first production from this facility is expected by June.

South32’s 40% stake in Brazil Aluminium will be powered by renewable energy. According to the CRU aluminum cost model for 2021, the smelter placed in the second quartile of the global aluminum site cost curve.

Aluminum is a critical future-facing metal made via a two-step process. It entails mining bauxite – an aluminum ore – and crushing and refining the ore into a white alumina powder before the white powder is smelted into aluminum metal.

In addition to operating the Mozal Aluminium plant in Brazil, South32 also operates the Hillside Aluminium smelter in South Africa – the largest aluminum smelter in the southern hemisphere.

Despite coming off recent highs, South32 shares quoted in Sydney at A$4.77 at close on Monday have advanced nearly 66% over the past 12 months, giving it a market capitalization of A$22.16 billion ($15.64 billion).