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Engineer says Alpart could be operated solely on renewable energy

Published:Tuesday | August 23, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Consulting engineer Howard Chin is making the case for the Alpart plant, which was recently acquired by Chinese firm Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company Ltd (JISCO), to be operated entirely using renewable energy.

JISCO has announced plans to invest US$2 billion to expand the plant which will see the addition of an aluminium smelter powered by a coal-fired plant.

Chin has, however, argued that the heat that would be generated from the coal-fired plant could be detrimental to aquatic, plant and animal life in and around the Black River area, and as such, renewable-energy sources should be considered.

"Cooling the power plant and running the bauxite refinery requires a lot of water. How hot would the Black River become downstream of Alpart? Hot enough to kill animal life? Certainly, NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) is not answering these questions which have to be answered. Nor do they have the technical capability to do so," Chin said in an emailed response to The Gleaner.


In recognition of the problem of storage capacity associated with renewables, Chin explained that a large pumped hydroelectric storage power plant could be used to power the alumina plant in the first instance.

"It could be done using a large renewable energy system backed up by a pumped storage system," he said.

Pumped hydroelectric storage facilities store energy in the form of water in an upper reservoir, pumped from another reservoir at a lower elevation. During periods of high electricity demand, power is generated by releasing the stored water through turbines in the same manner as a conventional hydropower station. During periods of low demand, the upper reservoir is recharged by using lower-cost electricity from the grid to pump the water back to the upper reservoir.

Turning his attention to the Bayer Process, which would be used to produce aluminium should the Chinese go ahead with plans to build a smelter at Alpart, Chin observed that the heat given off could be transferred to the alumina refinery, which requires it in large quantities. According to the former Jamaica Institution of Engineers president, the smelter could also be powered by renewable energy.

"The alumina refinery needs a lot of heat. The aluminium smelter needs electricity and ends up giving off a lot of heat. Frankly, it might be possible to run the combined alumina and aluminium refining plant on a mostly very large renewable-energy system and a very large pumped storage system, and moving the heat from where it is produced to where it is needed," he said.