For sometime now, Rio have been threatening to walk away from the Tiwai Point smelter. Past attempts have involved the Government agreeing to lower the price of electricity. But now Rio say that the circumstances simply do not permit them to hang on to the Tiwai Point smelter any longer. The plant will close in late 2021.
This is the same Rio that has had significant I believe that Rio Tinto are being quite selfish, and are showing they are not good corporate citizens. After all, Rio have been given N.Z.$30 million of taxpayer money to keep their employees paid for the duration of the COVID19 emergency. It is also the same Rio Tinto that has been subsidised in an effort to keep costs down and keep jobs in New Zealand.
Although the Government has announced plans for a list of “shovel ready” projects to help Southland through these tough times, the devastation that losing so many jobs will have, is difficult to overstate. 2,260 jobs are expected to go, of which nearly 1,000 will be at the smelter itself and the rest in related industries.
Rio Tinto also owe Mataura, where a significant tonnage of dross has been dumped, an apology. Gore District Council has a fairly small rate payer base and cannot be expected to pick up the tab for a problem that was not of its making. The problem came about when 10,000 tonnes of dross was dumped in an old paper mill on the banks of the Mataura River. It then became an emergency when the Mataura River threatened to flood the mill after days of prolonged heavy rain. Days earlier there was a handshake agreement between G.D.C., New Zealand Aluminium Smelter to address the issue, which was vetoed by Rio without explanation.
Research from Hokkaido University however, suggests it is possible to convert dross to hydrogen using a process involving dross and distilled water. In the process the aluminium powder and distilled water is placed in a pressure resistant reactor, with a desired constant water flow using a liquid pump. The liquid temperature in the reactor increased due to the exothermic reaction given by Al + OH– + 3H2O = 1.5H2 + Al(OH)4– + 415.6 kJ.
In the case of Gore, even if a hydrogen plant was a shovel ready project, and there was demand for the hydrogen created, due to the proximity of the dross to the Mataura River only an industrial scale clean up can adequately dispose of that much material. It is possible that the Government may be left with no choice but to foot the bill itself, in which case Rio Tinto should be taken court with a warning it will be excluded from the New Zealand mining scene if it does not come clean.