Friday, 5 November 2010

Alcan Aluminium Plant (NZ295898)

Lynemouth’s famous Aluminium Smelter and Power Station, known locally simply as ‘Alcan’s’, is one of only three such plants in the UK (the other two being in Anglesey and Lochaber). The smelter was opened by the Canadian company in 1974, shortly after the construction of the power station needed to run it.

Aluminium comes from ore called bauxite. Before the ore reaches Lynemouth, it is first processed into alumina. The plant then extracts the metal from the alumina by heating it. And as the production of one tonne of aluminium requires the same amount of electricity as an average family does in 20 years, a cheap and handy source of power is needed to facilitate the process. Hence the existence of the nearby power station. Until they closed, the coal mines of Lynemouth and Ellington supplied the fuel for the power station – since when coal has been brought from local opencast operations, Scottish mines and a little from overseas. Bauxite is not found in the UK, and is brought from Jamaica and Australia – after it has first been processed into alumina in Ireland. Two trains bring a total of 42 wagons of alumina to the doors of Alcan every day from the port of Blyth.

The chimneys of both the power station and the smelter dominate the landscape for miles around, though it is a very thermally-efficient concern. It remains a major polluter, though, despite recent improvements. So much so, in fact, that its very future is in doubt. The development and employment of ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ technology and/or the using of biomass as a fuel instead of coal may yet save its skin.

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