New approaches improve aluminium smelting process
International process control expert, Professor Jie Bao from the School of Chemical Engineering, teamed up with world experts in electrochemistry, Professors Barry Welch and Maria Skyllas-Kazacos, to help Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA), one of the world's largest aluminium smelters, improve the efficiency of their smelting operations.
Partnership in summary
Partner: Emirates Global Aluminium (Formerly Dubai Aluminium Company)
Type of partnership: Contract research.
Collaborating since: 2009
Funding: $528K in cash, plus significant in-kind contribution
Purpose: To develop a low cost, low maintenance and robust approach for online monitoring and analysis of the aluminium smelting process
Outcomes: 1. An intelligent instrumentation scheme for online monitoring and analysis 2. Algorithms/software to detect, in real time, conditions that adversely impact energy and environmental efficiencies 3. Two filed patent applications
The primary production of aluminium is highly energy intensive. With energy costs representing 22-36% of operating costs in smelters, it’s no wonder the industry is looking for more energy-efficient production technologies.
“In recent years, productivity and flexibility have become important economic drivers due to the changing cost structure for aluminium smelting. But unfortunately, operating practices modified to meet these requirements have increased the frequency of abnormalities, adversely impacting energy and environmental efficiencies,” Professor Bao explains.
It was my personal pleasure to work with such a great team on this breakthrough project. I enjoyed the process and found the outcomes very valuable and useful not only for EGA but for the entire industry. The results have the potential to improve the efficiency of the aluminium smelting process from both a productivity and environmental point of view by decreasing the energy and manpower requirements.
Sergey Akhmetov, Vice President-Reduction, Emirates Global Aluminium
“This has led to a need to be able to monitor the operation of smelting cells online; estimate some key process variables that cannot be directly measured; and detect abnormal conditions in real time.”
The partnership between Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA) and UNSW started in 2009, when Professors Bao, Welch and Skyllas-Kazacos were working on a project funded by CSIRO. “We collaborated with EGA on a number of experimental studies with industrial operating cells and had such promising outcomes that EGA decided to fully fund this new research project,” says Professor Bao. “This is a truly interdisciplinary project that was developed based on our expertise in process control and electrochemistry.”
The project has resulted in some very useful outcomes for the aluminium industry. The first, which Professor Bao says is already implemented in a number of smelting cells in operation at EGA, is a cost-effective, low maintenance intelligent instrumentation scheme to monitor anode current distribution in real time. The second is the development of software to detect, in real time, conditions that adversely impact energy and environmental efficiencies. Two patents have been filed as a result.
About Professor Jie Bao
Professor Jie Bao is a process control expert of international repute. He leads the Process Control Research Group at the School of Chemical Engineering, and has been awarded more than $3.5 million in competitive research grants (including eight Discovery Projects) from the Australian Research Council, CSIRO and industry. He has published extensively in major process control and chemical engineering journals and is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Process Control.