Rio Tinto Yarwun General Manager Mark Gilmore.
Rio Tinto Yarwun General Manager Mark Gilmore.

What’s being done in Rio Tinto’s $75m Gladstone shutdowns

RIO Tinto has forged ahead with $75 million in maintenance on its Gladstone assets despite COVID-19 restrictions and economic uncertainty in the alumina market.

The global mining giant has been engaging up to 500, predominantly local specialist contractors, to perform the annual shutdown work on its Queensland Alumina Ltd and Rio Tinto Yarwun refineries.

Rio Tinto Yarwun general manager Mark Gilmore said the company had found ways to safely deliver shutdowns during challenging times.

“This is good for our refineries, our local businesses and the community,” Mr Gilmore said.

Mr Gilmore said the QAL and Yarwun shuts were providing significant economic benefits for the Gladstone region, including local spend with labour-hire firms, transport and vehicle-hire businesses, maintenance workshops and accommodation suppliers.

Rio Tinto's Yarwun alumina refinery.
Rio Tinto's Yarwun alumina refinery.

Of the asset shutdowns in the region, Yarwun’s was the most expensive at $65 million, covering three major areas of the plant, digestion, boilers and calciners.

To limit production impacts, the Yarwun shuts are being done simultaneously.

“The complexity of the shut at Yarwun is an opportunity to rethink the way we do things and explore innovation in our systems,” Mr Gilmore said.

To ensure the Yarwun refinery can maintain necessary social distancing with up to 350 extra people on site, the shut has been limited to day shifts.

“This means we have had a longer shut but with lower intensity,” Mr Gilmore said.

Technical upgrades to QAL’s boiler management system in one of its 10 onsite boilers forms a large part of its $10.6 million cost.

QAL Gladstone General Manager Pine Pienaar.
QAL Gladstone General Manager Pine Pienaar.

QAL general manager Pine Pienaar said safety underpinned the upgrade.

“This upgrade will significantly improve the safety and stability of our boiler operation,” Mr Pienaar said.

“The BMS provides safe start-up, temperature control monitoring and shutdown of the boiler. This is our second boiler upgrade since 2019, with five more scheduled to be completed by 2023.”

QAL’s boilers produce high-pressure steam that is integral to the alumina-refining process.

The steam is used across the operation, mainly in the ‘digestion’ process of extracting alumina from bauxite.

To deliver the QAL shutdown, 140 local contractors have been working day and night shifts since August.

The boiler is due to return to service on 24 October, with the total project investment standing at approximately $7.8 million on Gladstone regional suppliers.

QAL's Gladstone alumina refinery.
QAL's Gladstone alumina refinery.

The two refineries and Boyne Smelters Limited introduced layered COVID-19 controls earlier this year to mitigate the risk to employees, contractors and the community.

These controls include a mandatory questionnaire and body temperature screening for anyone entering the sites, along with antibody and full diagnostic screening if necessary.

As part of its community focus, Rio Tinto Yarwun’s shut team and primary contractor, UGL, supported suicide-prevention charity Project We Care, as well as R U OK Day.

“For every safe (zero injury) day, we donated $200 to Project We Care, channelled through the Rotary Club,” Mr Gilmore said.

“Having a community focus means a lot to our teams.”

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