Tiwai Point

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Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter as seen from the top of Bluff Hill
Tiwai Point is located in New Zealand
Tiwai Point
Tiwai Point
Awarua Plain (top), Tiwai Point (centre) and Bluff (lower left) viewed from the International Space Station in 2008.

Tiwai Point lies at the entrance to Bluff Harbour on the southern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. A spit which extends from the western end of the Awarua Plain, it lies between Awarua Bay to the north and Foveaux Strait to the south. It is famous for the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter, one of the largest industrial facilities in New Zealand.[1]

Aluminium smelter[edit]

Background and ownership[edit]

The Tiwai Point aluminium smelter is owned by New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited, which is owned by Rio Tinto Aluminium (RTA) (79.36%) and the Sumitomo Chemical Company (20.64%).[2] Greta Stevens is the current General Manager Operations (as of 2013).

The Tiwai Point smelter was opened in 1971. According to Rio Tinto Alcan, it provides NZ$3.65 billion worth of economic benefit to the New Zealand economy.[citation needed] It produces the world's highest purity primary (i.e. directly refined made from alumina ore) aluminium. The ore is mostly imported from Australia, while the finished product mostly goes to Japan.[3]

Facility[edit]

The smelter currently consists of 3 lines of P69 technology cells, with 208 cells each (i.e. 624 total), and one line of 48 CD200 technology cells. In 2011 the smelter produced a record amount of aluminium, 354,030 saleable tonnes. The previous record production was 352,976 tonnes in 2007.[4] In 2009, approximately 750 full-time personnel were employed, and 120 contractors.[3] Metal production was 271,902 tonnes.[3] The third P69 Line was built in the early 1980s as part of Muldoon government's "Think Big" projects.

Financial Results[edit]

Taken from the Statistical Review of Comalco's New Zealand Activities, page 22 of the 1993 Annual Report.

Year   Tonnes   Aluminium Price  Nett Profit    Employees
1979  153,537    1575             -1,172,000     1,252  
1980  154,740    1770             17,470,000     1,258  
1981  153,979    1302              2,941,000     1,359  
1982  163,419    1026            -20,698,000     1,452  
1983  218,609    1478             -9,665,000     1,651  
1984  242,850    1281              1,766,000     1,631  
1985  240,835    1072            -24,772,000     1,529  
1986  236,332    1160            -18,188,000     1,506  
1987  248,365    1496             92,570,000     1,429  
1988  257,006    2367            173,040,000     1,770  
1989  258,359    1915            118,500,000     1,820  
1990  259,408    1635             42,051,000     1,720  
1991  258,790    1333            -34,122,000     1,465  
1992  241,775    1279            -18,649,000     1,415  
1993  267,200    1161            -18,016,000     1,465  

The smelter production is in tonnes of saleable metal, the aluminium price is the average London Metal Exchange 3 month in US$/tonne, the Nett Profit/Loss is after tax and NZ$. The employee count includes contract employees and the full-time equivalent of part-time employees. Comalco-CHH Aluminium employees are not included from 1990; 425 were employed in 1993.

Note that for aluminium to be sold, bauxite must be imported.

Electricity[edit]

Further information: Manapouri Power Station

The smelter's maximum power demand from the national grid is up to 610 MW. Most of the energy for the smelter is supplied from the Manapouri hydroelectric power station, via two double circuit 220 kV transmission lines. The perceived reliability of energy supply from Manapouri played a major role in the choice of building the aluminium smelter in Southland,[3] with both the power plant and the smelter having been constructed as co-ordinated projects. The facility is the largest electricity consumer in New Zealand, and uses approximately one third of the total electricity consumed in the South Island and 15% of the total electricity nationwide.

Electricity usage

New Zealand Aluminium Smelters has a contract for electricity supply with Meridian Energy for the continuous supply of 572 megawatts for the period 2013 to 2030.[2]

Emissions[edit]

In 2007, Tom Campbell, the chief executive of majority owner Rio Tinto Aluminium NZ, said that the smelter was amongst the top 5% of the world's 250 aluminium smelters in terms of low emissions.[2] In 2007, 1.97 tonnes of carbon dioxide were released for every tonne of aluminium produced.[5] The basic reaction is Al2O3 → 2Al + 3O as in the Hall-Héroult process; if all the oxygen at the red-hot carbon anode becomes carbon monoxide (that subsequently becomes carbon dioxide) then for one tonne of aluminium, 1.55 tonnes of CO would result, becoming 2.4 tonnes of CO2. However if all the oxygen went directly to CO2, then 1.56 tonnes of CO2 would result. At the stated rate of 1.97 tonnes of carbon dioxide per tonne of aluminium, the production of 272,000 tonnes of aluminium in a year would emit 535,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Many other compounds are formed, plus particulates: these may be filtered out or simply vented to the atmosphere.

In 2008, Rio Tinto Aluminium was declared the second worst transnational corporation in New Zealand, in the Roger Awards for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand. This was due to its threat to close the smelter if the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme went ahead.[6] [7] The smelter emitted about 600,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases (measured as carbon dioxide equivalents) in 2010.[8]

Closure threats[edit]

Rio Tinto has threatened to close the Tiwai Point smelter if it can't get a cheaper deal for electricity from retailer Meridian, or the Government fails to give it a substantial subsidy to cover recent losses due to the strengthening Kiwi dollar and a fall in aluminium prices.[9] Between 2008 and 2013, aluminium prices fell by more than 30 percent.[10]

Much media commentary[11] in April 2013 focused on the impact of closure on both domestic power prices and share prices when the State Owned Enterprise and electricity generator Mighty River Power would be partially sold off to private investors.

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt said it was a myth that closing the smelter, which uses around 15 percent of the country's electricity, would result in lower prices, and has vowed to keep it open.[12]

Tiwai Rocks Important Bird Area[edit]

The rocks at the tip of Tiwai Point have been identified as an Important Bird Area, by BirdLife International because they are home to a breeding colony of Stewart Island Shags.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Easton, Brian (3 March 2009). "Economy - Secondary production". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Ministry for Culture and Heritage / Te Manatu- Taonga. Retrieved 25 August 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c Bennett, Adam (3 October 2007). "Meridian boss hails deal with smelter". New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 25 August 2011. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d "New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited". Rio Tinto Alcan. 2011. Retrieved 25 August 2011. 
  4. ^ "Aluminium record set in 2011". Radio New Zealand. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2013. 
  5. ^ "NZAS Sustainable development report". New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited. 2007. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  6. ^ Horton, Murray (May 2009), Tobacco Merchant Of Death Wins 2008 Roger Award (120), Foreign Control Watchdog, retrieved 24 August 2011 
  7. ^ "The 2008 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand". CAFCA. 2008. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  8. ^ "NZAS Sustainable development report". New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited. 2010. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  9. ^ "Rio Tinto rejects Govt's subsidy offer". 3 News NZ. April 2, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Smelter's woes blamed on excess supply". 3 News NZ. April 3, 2013. 
  11. ^ "John Key's Game of Two Halves". SST. April 7, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Tim Shadbolt vows to save smelter". 3 News NZ. April 5, 2013. 
  13. ^ BirdLife International. (2012). Important Bird Areas factsheet: Tiwai Rocks. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 2012-02-05.

Coordinates: 46°35′53″S 168°21′51″E / 46.598034°S 168.364105°E / -46.598034; 168.364105