Majority shareholder Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques got some time with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland this week, which brought together global leaders and concluded on Friday.

“We had a very productive meeting with Prime Minister Ardern to discuss how the carbon-free smelting technology we are testing could further strengthen New Zealand’s aluminium industry, particularly in a carbon constrained world.

“We committed to work together to make Tiwai Point safer, more productive and sustainable so it can continue to provide benefits to the community and wider economy.”

The smelter contributes $525 million to the Southland economy, employs 650 people and produces about 337,000 tonnes of aluminium every year.

In May last year, Rio Tinto and American aluminium company Alcoa launched a new joint venture, Elysis, and unveiled a new process to make carbon-free aluminium they said would eliminate all direct greenhouse emissions from the traditional smelting process and produce pure oxygen.

The technology would be ready for sale by 2024.

When the smelter’s fourth potline reopened in December, made possible by a new contract with Meridian Energy, Ardern challenged Rio Tinto and the operators, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS), to keep seeking opportunities arising from producing a high-quality, low-carbon product in a world that needed to transition to a low-emissions future.

It was reported that this was a topic high on the forum agenda in Switzerland, when the PM told fellow world leaders to get on the right side of history, to embrace ‘”guardianship” of the earth and future-proofing of the economy.

NZAS chief executive and site general manager Stew Hamilton was pleased about the meeting between Ardern and Jacques.

“During her recent visit to Tiwai, the Prime Minister asked us to keep representing New Zealand on the world stage, so it was great she found the time to connect with our global chief executive in Davos.

“As Tiwai’s majority owner, Rio Tinto is setting a direction around mining the resources we need for a low carbon future. This is very aligned with our government’s direction and as we produce some of the lowest carbon and highest purity aluminium in the world the team at Tiwai is ready to play an important role in that low carbon future.”