Australia’s biggest zinc refinery will be 100 per cent renewable by 2025

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Sun Metals could be producing 100% green zinc as early as 2025, according to the CEO of fellow Korea Zinc subsidiary Ark Energy, as the group’s Australian renewable energy investments, including a massive wind farm and a green hydrogen hub, come into play.

Speaking at the 2021 Australia-Korea New Energy Forum, Daniel Kim said Ark Energy had been established with the purpose of accelerating Korea Zinc’s energy transition, which was formalised last month when it joined the Climate Group-led RE-100 initiative.

The first stop on this decarbonisation journey, Kim said, was Ark Energy sister company Sun Metals, which got the process underway in early 2017 with the first large-scale solar farm to be built directly by a major energy user in Australia – a 116MW project south of Townsville.

Last year, the Queensland-based refiner announced it would also develop one of north Queensland’s first renewable hydrogen production facilities, at the Sun Metals zinc refinery in Townsville, after securing a $5 million Queensland government grant.

And in March of this year, Ark Energy took a 30 per cent stake in one of Australia’s largest wind projects, the massive 923MW MacIntyre wind farm that is being built by Acciona in south-west Queensland.

“We are planning for McIntyre to be fully commissioned by the end of 2024,” Kim told the energy forum. “McIntyre, through our equity offtake, will essentially supply 63% of Sun metals electricity needs.

“And so, when you combine that generation profile of both the solar and the wind across a 24 hour period, by the end of 2024 we’ll be at 85% green, for Sun Metals.

“And of course between now and then, we’ve got a number of other options to plug that gap. So, we are on track to get to green zinc well ahead of our RE100 commitments and potentially as early as 2025.”

Kim said that Sun Metals’ shift to renewable energy – which started as a way to access the most competitive power prices – was now more about staying competitive in a rapidly changing global market that puts a price on carbon.

“We are the largest zinc producer in the world. We have a corporate responsibility to not only tackle but limit global warming. But we [also]… know that it’s the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.

“And I think we are seeing an emerging potential for a market premium for green industrial products and we’ve noticed that some customers in the US and Europe are already paying a $US5 to $US10 dollar per tonne premium for green aluminium.

“Part of this… is ensuring that we continue to be a preferred supplier and continue to be competitive. …So, for us again, green zinc, green industrial products, it’s all about ensuring that we remain competitive, irrespective of potential changes in the regulatory landscape overseas, and potentially even at home.”

Kim also touched on the Ark Energy’s ambitions to produce green hydrogen, based around the development of the SunHQ Hydrogen Hub, which it is building in the precinct of the Sun Metals zinc refinery

“Phase one is deliberately modest and we want to prove the concept of a hub and the initial use case will be five ultra-heavy 140 pound rated fuel cell trucks, which we will own and lease to our sister company.

“This is our phased approach to exports and, I suppose, the point here is, when you look at the renewable energy load for our green hydrogen ambitions it’s you know, up in this 8HW (zone), which is epic; it’s more than half of Queensland’s current installed capacity.

“So, you know, as, as we look to build that out, together with the load from the green zinc, it will be epic. And we’ll be looking to partner and deploy capital in the most efficient way.

“SunHQ is… on track to commission by the end of next year. And as I said, huge opportunity for the region, but again the renewable energy is the common denominator,” Kim said.

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