Germany-headed Aurubis AG, a leading global copper recycler and provider of non-ferrous metals, has recently disclosed that its Hamburg plant in Germany will be one of the first copper smelters in the world to use hydrogen instead of fossil gas for the reduction process in its anode furnaces.
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According to Aurubis, it already produces copper with less than half the average global carbon footprint today. Furthermore, the company has committed to an ambitious carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction target of 50 percent for Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions for 2030 as part of the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).
With an investment of about EUR 40 million, the conversion in the Hamburg plant will be carried out as part of the plant’s routine maintenance shutdown slated for spring 2024.
In addition to decarbonizing production, the new furnaces will improve process flexibility as well.
Currently, unwrought copper is processed using fossil gas, which generates significant volumes of CO2. By using hydrogen (H2) as a reducing agent in the future, Aurubis expects the new technology in copper production to provide potential savings of up to 5,000 tonnes of CO2 annually when using hydrogen only.
While conceptualizing the ambitious anode furnace project, the company relied on internal expertise to a great extent.
The new furnace area’s H2 readiness is 100 percent ‘Made by Aurubis’. With the new anode furnaces, we’re demonstrating our determination and our courage to apply real innovations to our processes and, as a company with nearly 160 years of history at the Hamburg site, to continue taking on new challenges, said Roland Harings, CEO at Aurubis.
Collaboration with Metso
In May 2021, Aurubis showed that hydrogen can be successfully used in production. A pilot project at the Hamburg plant produced copper anodes using hydrogen instead of fossil gas – the first use of hydrogen on an industrial scale.
The new anode furnaces, developed in collaboration with Finland-headed Metso Oyj in which design input was based on full-scale hydrogen testing done at the Aurubis plant, consist of complete hydrogen-ready Outotec Anode Furnaces with hoods and auxiliary equipment, which will be used in the anode refining process.
Metso has supplied anode furnaces for copper refining and scrap melting since the 1970s. Metso’s Outotec Anode Furnaces are designed for safety and sustainability, enabling lower energy consumption, decreasing batch cycle time for more efficient refining, and resulting in cleaner off-gases.
Metso can provide anode furnaces powered with steam reformation or hydrogen capabilities, both of which can significantly reduce process CO2 emissions compared with traditional processing media.
Prepared for the green hydrogen economy
The new anode furnaces will help to further decarbonize Aurubis’ production even before enough hydrogen comes on the market, as they work more efficiently and consume about 30 percent less fossil gas, for a potential savings of nearly 1,200 tonnes of CO2 per year.
By replacing the anode furnaces, we are achieving another milestone in our decarbonization strategy. For now, there is still barely enough green hydrogen to cover the German industry’s huge demand at competitive prices. With this step, we’re leading the way and showing that we’re prepared, said Roland Harings.
On top of the clear benefits for the climate, replacing the anode furnaces provides a technological boost for the more efficient extraction of valuable metals from metal concentrates and recycling materials.
This includes nickel, an important raw material in electric car batteries.