LRF: Celebrating 60 years of technical excellence in aluminium

This year, Rio Tinto’s Laboratoire de Recherche des Fabrications (LRF) (Research & Development Center) in France celebrated 60 years of creating innovative technologies for the aluminium industry. On September 19 and 20, we celebrated this event with all our employees, Rio Tinto group management, our partners, as well as local and national political figures and Philippe Varin, President of France Industrie. Visitors had the opportunity to see the prototype pots, the state-of-the-art control room and to exchange with LRF professionals on the latest developments and those of the future.

Since 1959, LRF has been a dedicated aluminium research centre – designing, developing and testing new aluminium smelting pot technologies. It has been the driving force behind Rio Tinto AP Technology™ platform: smelting technology that gives us the lowest energy and carbon footprint in the aluminium industry. Thanks to the pioneering LRF employees over the years, successive generations of AP Technology™ smelting pots – AP18, AP30, APXe, AP60 – have been developed here, each offering successive improvements in productivity and reductions in energy consumption and emissions.

AP Technology™ solutions are in operation in our own Rio Tinto smelters and are licenced to external customers. Today, the technology developed at the LRF over the past decades is integrated into more than 10,000 reduction pots around the world, accounting for 17% of global primary aluminium installed capacity.

  With its prototype industrial-scale pots, LRF has been at the aluminium industry’s leading edge for decades and today innovative projects being currently developed will shape tomorrow’s world of aluminium. Today LRF is one part of Aluminium Technology Solutions (ATS) group of Rio Tinto Aluminium which also includes the Aluval technology team in Voreppe, France, and the Arvida Research and Development Centre (ARDC) in Quebec, Canada.

Strong relationships with industry partners, universities, equipment suppliers built over the years have been essential in the LRF long term success. Within Rio Tinto it partners with aluminium operations and Growth & Innovation group to integrate productivity and energy improvements. Externally the network of industrial partners and academics that has been weaved is called upon to bolster our knowhow.

LRF team’s skills are recognised around the world through the knowledge and expertise they bring to our work with customers, and the technical assistance they provide.

The LRF team is also working closely with the Rio Tinto-Alcoa ELYSIS joint venture, which is advancing breakthrough technology using inert anodes that eliminates all direct greenhouse gas emissions from the aluminium smelting process – instead emitting pure oxygen.  

“Sixty years is an opportunity to celebrate past achievements, but it’s also a chance to look ahead to the future,” adds Jean-François Faure, general manager, ATS. “LRF is a key player in our industry’s next technological revolution, both through developing 4.0 solutions thanks to new smart tools and through its significant contribution to the Rio Tinto-Alcoa ELYSIS project.” LRF hasn’t finished adding exciting chapters to the history of the aluminium industry and we wish a very happy birthday to LRF and to all those who have contributed to its evolution during these sixty years.

Five things to know about LRF

  • Today, LRF has 70 employees, who work at the R&D facility in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in the French Alps, not far from the border with Italy. Over the last 10 years, LRF has generated €20 million in local economic benefits.
  • LRF has a mini aluminium potline, with three industrial-scale pots used for testing new technology packages and new pots. The potline uses AP Technology™ solutions developed on-site, including the world’s most productive aluminium technology (AP60) and the most energy-efficient technology (APXe).
  • The site also has an engineering and modelling office that designs technological solutions for Rio Tinto and third-party smelters.
  • Increasing the amperage of reduction pots – the strength of electric current that flows through them – is the key factor in improving their productivity. Since 1990, LRF has increased the intensity of AP30 pots (which was initially at 300,000 amperes) to over 400,000 amperes. These new versions operate at Rio Tinto Alma and Kitimat smelters in Canada and in 12 other smelters around the world. LRF also carries out R&D on process control, on improving understanding of how reduction pots work and boosting their performance by using new sensors and algorithms.
  • For more than 30 years, LRF has run the Institut Paul Heroult a training facility named after the 19th century French inventor of the aluminium reduction process. IPH offers training courses for customers of AP Technology™ which focus on understanding