Think Piece Article: Power to the People

Think Piece Article: Power to the People

15 May 2016

Author: Dr. Linda Wright PHD, PhD, BSc (Hons) 1st Class

EnPot fundamentally transforms the way electricity is consumed during the aluminium smelting process

The EnPot system breaks the restraints of current aluminium smelting process and provides dynamic control of an aluminium smelter’s potlines. For the first time energy use and production can be increased or decreased by as much as 30%, instantaneously at the turn of a dial.
This promises to be the most transformative breakthrough in primary aluminium production in 125 years, and its development is of global significance.

"It actually changes everything to do with the economics of primary aluminium production," says one of the world’s preeminent experts in aluminium smelting, Dr. Mark Dorreen, Director of the Light Metals Research Centre at The University of Auckland, in New Zealand.

"Aluminium smelting is impossibly huge for the average consumer to comprehend. A medium sized smelter produces around US$1 billion worth of aluminium a year, and essentially requires a dedicated power station to supply its energy needs.

"An average sized aluminium smelter consists of 420 pots using between 500-550 megawatt hours of power at a constant rate, enough to power an entire European city of over 1.25 million houses.

"In fact the world’s 200 aluminium smelters consume the same amount of power as 1.2 billion people use domestically in their homes," he says. 

"The current problem with aluminium smelting is that the process not only requires a lot of electricity; but it needs it continuously to keep the electrolysis process running.

"With the existing aluminium primary production process, smelters are built with a very narrow energy use window, that is they cannot vary the energy input of a smelter by much more than plus or minus 5%," he says.

Essentially an aluminium smelter is designed to operate at full capacity 24/7, 365 days a year, for its entire lifespan. Even routine maintenance is conducted with the smelter running at near full capacity.

Dr. Dorreen says that the maximum production straightjacket that the aluminium industry currently is in, has a significant and dramatic effect on both the cost of production for individual smelters, as well as the dynamics of the supply and demand curves of the industry as a whole.

"It also creates power supply issues for national grids, especially as nations seek to generate a higher percentage of their electricity from renewable sources, which are inherently more intermittent in their generation," he says, "and this is good reason for all of us to be interested."

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