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South32 Aims for Greener Operations at Hillside Aluminium

Company seeks sustainable energy solutions to cut emissions at South Africa's largest aluminium smelter.

by Adenike Adeodun

South32, a major player in the mining sector, is intensively exploring solutions to decarbonize its operations at the Hillside Aluminium smelter in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. CEO Graham Kerr revealed to Mining Weekly the company’s commitment to sustainability and operational competitiveness, especially in light of the Johannesburg, Sydney, and London-listed entities reporting significant earnings for the first half of the 2024 financial year.

Hillside, the southern hemisphere’s largest aluminium smelter, has been instrumental in achieving record aluminium production for South32. However, the facility also poses a significant challenge to the company’s goal to halve its Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2035, as it contributes to 59% of South32’s total emissions. The reliance on coal-fired electricity for aluminium production at Hillside is under scrutiny, especially with the European Union’s carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) imposing tariffs on aluminium not produced with clean energy.

In response, South32 is actively pursuing large-scale renewable and low-carbon energy sources for Hillside, a critical economic contributor supporting over 31,000 jobs and adding R9.9 billion to South Africa’s GDP. This contrasts with South32’s Mozal Aluminium smelter in Mozambique, which already benefits from renewable energy and is nearing the extension of its hydroelectric power contract.

The transition to low-carbon energy at Hillside is a complex challenge, requiring collaboration with Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned power utility, the government, and commercial partners. A pilot agreement to purchase energy attributes from the Koeberg nuclear power station is being considered, aiming to maintain Hillside’s competitiveness in the European market despite CBAM pressures.

This transition is essential for South Africa to continue benefiting from the increasing global demand for aluminium, especially in battery electric vehicles (BEVs), packaging substitution, and renewable energy sectors. Without access to affordable low-carbon energy, Hillside risks becoming uncompetitive, whereas Mozal’s access to clean energy places it in a more advantageous position.

According to a report by Mining Weekly, South32’s just energy transition for Hillside emphasizes collaboration with government and community stakeholders to ensure a sustainable and equitable shift towards low-carbon energy, safeguarding jobs, and contributing to the global fight against climate change.

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