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Tiwai aluminium smelter head focused on ‘continuing operations’

Chris Blenkiron has been appointed as the new chief executive and general manager of the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter at Tiwai Point.

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New Zealand Aluminium Smelter chief executive Chris Blenkiron says green hydrogen in Southland could co-exist with the smelter.
Photo: Supplied

The chief executive of the Tiwai aluminium smelter says he is “utterly focused” on continuing its operations into the future, perhaps as a large industrial user of green hydrogen.

New Zealand Aluminium Smelter chief executive Chris Blenkiron told the Trans-Tasman Business Council this afternoon he had been talking to power generators about continuing Tiwai’s operation beyond 2024, when its current power contracts were due to expire.

“I’m hopeful that through our aluminium, our participation in the energy sector and our determination to be responsible environmental guardians that our story can continue beyond 2024,” he said.

“I’ve emphasized the role a continuing operation at Tiwai can have in not only using today’s supply of electricity efficiently, but at adding to NZ’s stock of energy by supporting the build of new renewables.”

He said green hydrogen in Southland could co-exist with the smelter.

“I believe that green hydrogen, when consumed next to where it is produced, will play a key role in decarbonising various applications moving forward.”

He said Tiwai could be a foundation customer for a green hydrogen facility in Southland with potentially large annual demand for green hydrogen in its industrial processes.

“Having a large industrial user like ourselves operating makes it easier for these new industries to emerge and add value to New Zealand’s decarbonisation plans.

Blenkiron also emphasised the economic contribution Tiwai already made to the region and the broader economy.

“Combined with the potential future that’s on the table for Tiwai and Rio (the smelter’s owner) in NZ – for me is something worth fighting like an ally cat for.”

Tiwai uses about 12 percent of the country’s electricity to produce aluminium, but currently gets that power at a discount rate.

“But we also turn it in to those jobs and into GDP. We also use it to decarbonise the planet.”

He estimated the smelter supported between 1,000 and 2,500 jobs and produced 330 kilotons (kt) of aluminium a year, with 90 percent exported.

“And our aluminium is amongst the less carbon intensive in the world.”

Blenkiron said the smelter would clean-up residual pollution at the site, whether or not it continued manufacturing after 2024.

“We’re listening, learning, rebuilding trust and repairing our tattered social license I spoke on.”

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