Report - Rio Tinto Alcan Aluminium Smelter, Lynemouth - April 2012 - May 2013

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Regular User
Jan 10, 2009
Site: Rio Tinto Alcan Aluminium Smelter, Lynemouth | Status: Mothballed | Information:

The plant opened in 1971 to produce aluminium by electrolysis. The smelter is centred on national grid reference NZ 295898 and is situated at an approximate elevation of 20 meters Above Ordnance Datum (mAOD). The site comprises a rectangular parcel of land amounting to approximately 42 ha, which includes the main production area of the facility and ancillary activities. The smelter complex consists of raw material unloading facilities, a carbon plant, two potlines used for the electrolytic reduction of alumina to aluminium and a casting plant for the production of aluminium sheet ingot. There are also a number of other buildings located throughout the site of various size and purpose. They include a Gatehouse, Gymnasium, Emergency Vehicle Garage and a Canteen along with a substantial car park.

It takes the amount of electricity one family would consume in 20 years to smelt a single tonne of aluminium - and so Rio Tinto Alcan themselves commissioned the building of a power station at Lynemouth. This was fed by coal from the local mines and its 420 MW capacity fuels the plant with a surplus sold to the National Grid. The site has a substantial 11kV power supply fed from dedicated transformers. Natural gas is fed to the smelter gas governor from an underground high-pressure pipeline which crosses Alcan Farms land to the south.

The Aluminium Production industry has suffered a major decline in primary aluminium production capacity. The industry's two largest smelters, in Anglesey and Lynemouth, closed in 2009 and 2012 respectively, leaving just one primary smelter in Lochaber, Scotland. The Lochber facility produces its own electricity via its two hydroelectric generating stations and has a capacity of 45,000 tonnes of aluminium per year. The industry has suffered from volatile world aluminium prices, poor demand from downstream markets and rising energy costs.
Present: April 2012 - AJ & Horus | June 2012 - AJ & Horus | April 2013 - AJ & Horus | April 2013 - AJ & Horus | May 2013 - AJ & Horus

Production at the Lynemouth Smelter ended at 14:00 on the 29th March 2012 following a 90-day consultation period. It closed putting 515 people out of work. Alcan cited rising energy costs due to emerging European environmental legislation as the reason, however no mention was made of effects (if any) on their other European aluminum plants, in France and Iceland. Another reason given for closing Lynemouth is that it does not meet Rio Tinto's criterion of 40% rate of return from its businesses, despite being one of the most efficient aluminum smelters in the world. The 420MW coal power station continues to operate under new ownership.

The site is vast and having covered it extensively over five separate visits, the transformers, locked potroom control rooms, gymnasium, canteen, emergency vehicle garage, office blocks, gatehouse (if you're feeling adventurous) and many storage buildings were left outstanding. The transition from loud industrial working environment to eerie silence and birds flying through the Carbon Plant was quite striking in such a short time frame.

Being spotted by workers or security whilst on site wasn't an option due to the nature of the surrounding land, retreating back to the car would have meant a half hour venture through woodland and agricultural land - more than enough time for the police helicopter to be dispatched. Wrapped up within a palisade perimeter fence was a visible security presence to contend with including infrared CCTV, internal cameras, floodlights and regular vehicular patrols. Thanks mainly to a thorough recce prior to our first attempt, we didn't have any issues with security on any visit.

Discovering a safe method of crossing palisade fencing, creeping past a contractor sleeping in his van, monitoring security, evading workmen, wading through swamped agricultural land, walking in to a farmers fence and painfully receiving twigs to the eye on multiple occasions whilst navigating woodland in the pitch black was all part of the adventure!


Ring Furnaces

With the smelters closure imminent, we took the opportunity of a little reconnaissance during daylight hours. Inconspicuously pulling up in the staff car park, Horus stepped out of the car and visited the gatehouse to speak with security about Alcan's current job opportunities whilst observing the CCTV monitors - smooth! We got what we needed and proceeded to walk the perimeter fence in search of an access point and to take note of security measures. So, expecting the site to be deserted with closure looming, we returned at dusk surprised to find the site in full operation with an abundance of night shift workers. Not wanting to leave, we climbed the palisade fence and headed to the ring furnaces. We found ourselves navigating both ring furnaces whilst evading workers and taking photographs - a little stressful! After a growing number of close calls we decided it was only a matter of time before we would inevitably be spotted or walk in to the path of a worker, so we called it a night to return at a later date.

Waiting a couple of months in anticipation that work had ceased, we returned in June to find one of the ring furnaces still live. Undeterred, we opted for the unoccupied ring furnace as a possibility of heading deeper in to the plant. Steadily advancing and with the Carbon Plant in sight, progress was quickly halted by workers filtering in around us. Nearing 02:00, and unbeknown to the surrounding workers, it was apparent we were cornered and we ventured outside in retreat. Beneath floodlights and CCTV, we proceeded to dart past a manned control room and sprinted to the perimeter fence. Amused we'd evaded security and workers once again, it wasn't until our third visit in April of 2013 that the site was dormant and we had free reign.











Carbon Plant

The carbon plant comprises of 22 buildings (includes buildings at ends of Potrooms) which were used for producing and storing anode blocks.






202A Silo Tunnel PCS231 & Conveyor System







The potrooms take the bulk of the site and produced aluminium by electrolysis. There's four separate pot rooms, and each with their own courtyards. Each pot room is 539.5m x 23.775m x 11.506m high from suspended floor to underside of building truss steelwork (14.86m high from solid basement floor level to underside of building truss steelwork) with 65 tonne cranes. Sadly, when we visited in April, the lights were off and demolition was well underway. If you'd like to see more photographs of the potrooms, there's reports by drhowser here and Boba Low here.



Casting Plant - Dross Cooler & Furnace Area

Sat outside the perimeter fence in the pitch black drinking beer and eating Haribo whilst monitoring security conducting their patrols, a plan was devised to reach the Casting Plant with help from drhowser on the other end of the phone. The Casting Plant sits separate from the main building and adjacent to security, so after a quick dash from the potrooms we slipped in through an open door. Much like the potrooms, the Casting Plant has a solid basement floor level under the furnaces.

Used to produce aluminium ingot, the Casting Plant incorporated the service shop, table storage building and laboratory.











If you're left inspired by this report and you'd like to purchase your very own aluminium smelter, this site is for sale and here's the RTA brochure (.pdf document)

References: IBISWorld | Rio Tinto
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