A worker operates a mixer of fused aluminium at the foundry shop of the Rusal Sayanogorsk aluminium smelter outside the town of Sayanogorsk in Russia. Picture: REUTERS
A worker operates a mixer of fused aluminium at the foundry shop of the Rusal Sayanogorsk aluminium smelter outside the town of Sayanogorsk in Russia. Picture: REUTERS

Diversified global miner South32 says it intends to spend $70m (R1.1bn) to help restart the mothballed Alumar aluminium smelter in Brazil, with its share to be entirely powered by renewable energy.

The group, which wants net-zero emissions by 2050, intends to restart the smelter along with joint venture partner Alcoa using a mix of solar, wind and hydroelectricity. The first production expected in the second quarter of 2022.

South32 has a 40% stake in the smelter, which has been on care and maintenance since 2015. It forms part of South32’s Brazil Alumina operations, which include a stake Brazil’s biggest bauxite mine as well as a refinery.

Once at full capacity South32 expects group-wide production to increase 16% to about 1.27-million tonnes, with part of the spending to take place in South32’s 2023 financial year.

“With this decision we continue to make substantial progress in reshaping our portfolio, increasing our exposure to the base metals required for the critical transition to a low-carbon future,” CEO Graham Kerr said in a statement.

“With the smelter benefiting from existing infrastructure, access to our own supply of alumina and long-term green energy sources, we expect our investment to deliver strong returns through the cycle,” he said. “We see strong long-term market fundamentals for aluminium.”

South32 is a globally diversified mining and metals company and produces bauxite, alumina, aluminium, metallurgical coal, manganese, nickel, silver, lead and zinc at its operations in Australia, Southern Africa and South America.

The group was unbundled from BHP in 2015 and completed its sale of its SA coal assets to Seriti earlier in 2021. It still has manganese interests in SA, while it also owns the energy-intensive Hillside Aluminium smelter in Richards Bay. The group is also looking to reduce emissions from Hillside, which is the largest aluminium smelter in the southern hemisphere.

Its announcement comes amid increasing pressure on miners, especially coal miners, to beef up their environmental credentials as investment houses and financiers shy away from polluting industries.

In morning trade on Thursday South32's shares were down 1.51% to R45.70, amid general pressure on markets as investors digested hawkish minutes from the US Federal Reserve's December meeting.

Update: January 6 2021
This article has been updated with additional information.

gernetzkyk@businesslive.co.za

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