Green power to breathe new life into Hillside smelter

The introduction of green power, forms part of South32’s strategy to reshape its portfolio to increase its exposure to base metals required for the transition to a low carbon future.

Diversified mining company South32 is working on options to secure green electricity at Hillside Aluminium smelter in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. If South32 is unable to secure an affordable source of low-carbon electricity for Hillside, this key KwaZulu-Natal operation risks becoming uncompetitive in the international market over time, given the emergence of carbon border tariffs and end-user demand for green aluminium.

The group, which has promised to cut its direct and secondary carbon emission in half by 2035 – is also pursuing significant green energy plans for its energy intensive Mozal smelter in Mozambique and the Hillside smelter in South Africa.

The greening of the power from these smelters is critical to South32’s decarbonisation commitments as almost 90% of its secondary or Scope2 emissions are owed to the coal-fired power it is supplied by South Africa’s Eskom.

The group has rolled out energy efficiency technology at Mozal, and plans to do the same at Hillside.

Smelting is amongst the most energy intensive of industries with aluminium and steel smelting especially so. Greening smelting operations remains a formidable challenge for an industry which requires large amounts of consistent power around the clock.

Owing to the aluminium smelter’s significant economic and social importance, South32 has commenced just transition planning to support options for the smelter if its energy transition is not commercially viable and the smelter becomes uncompetitive.

Around 30% of the sales of Hillside – which has played a key role in KwaZulu-Natal’s economic development as one of the largest industrial employers in the region – are to South African customers, thereby supporting local downstream industries and employment.

The aluminium smelter also plays an important role in underpinning the stability of the national electricity grid, as Eskom has the flexibility to interrupt supply to the smelter to support management of the grid and minimise load-shedding.

But it accounts for a high 58% of the Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions of the four operations that South32 runs owing to its carbon-intensive electricity consumption and is in need of significant greening.