Subscription inquiry

Aluminum Smelting Industry Explained

The History of Aluminum Smelting

The modern aluminum smelting technique traces its roots to 1886. An Ohio chemistry student named Charles Martin Hall discovered a process to separate aluminum from molten material. At the same time, French chemist Paul T. Héroult made the same discovery. Both scientists received credit, and their technique became known as the Hall-Héroult process. It is the predominant aluminum smelting technique in use worldwide.

Although abundant in the earth's crust, pure aluminum is virtually impossible to find. Until the development of the Hall-Héroult process, the available quantities of pure aluminum amounted to samples. The Hall-Héroult process enabled the mass production of aluminum. In 1888, Hall founded the first industrial smelting operation, and global production has grown ever since.

Learn More About Aluminum Consulting for Smelters

What is Aluminum Smelting? 

Aluminum production first begins with smelters extracting aluminum from bauxite (sedimentary rock) during a two-step aluminum smelting process. The Bayer process separates alumina from bauxite. Also known as aluminum oxide, alumina then undergoes the Hall-Héroult process, producing pure aluminum. Each step decreases material quantity by half. For example, four units of bauxite will yield two units of alumina. Refining two units of alumina will amount to one unit of pure aluminum.

The Aluminum Smelting Process Explained

The Bayer Process

Bauxite rock consists of alumina, water molecules and other minerals. The Bayer process extracts alumina through heating and dissolving the particles, then further refining the compound through filtering. Once alumina is separated from bauxite, the other materials are discarded.

The Hall-Héroult Process

On the industrial scale, the Hall-Héroult process requires a great deal of power, producing aluminum through electrolysis. Dissolved aluminum is separated and moved to a collection area. Energy demands for this process are high, affecting the alumina smelting and aluminum market.

The Secondary Aluminum Smelting Process

Due to new sustainability drivers and environmental impacts, aluminum smelting in the scrap and secondary market is gaining popularity. This is the process of recycling aluminum scrap into aluminum that can be reused to form a green aluminum closed-loop process.

What Does the Outlook Look Like for Aluminum Smelters?

When it comes to aluminum trading and market outlook, projections forecast growth in demand for the commodity. By 2025, demand for aluminum is expected to grow by over 4% globally. The worldwide demand increase of over 3 billion tons is due mainly to the growing use of aluminum in construction, transportation and consumer goods industries.

Increased demand is taking a toll on global supply, increasing calls for production. Since 2014, aluminum stocks at the London Metal Exchange have dropped 75%. While aluminum can be recycled and reclaimed, new production demands continue to grow as more products adopt aluminum frames, components and hardware.

Consulting for Aluminum Producers and Smelting Companies

Aluminum is gaining momentum over other metals as a top choice across industries. Aluminum producers with an established alumina smelting network are poised to reap the gains from a growing and competitive alumina smelting market. If you are an aluminum smelter, gain an edge with aluminum consulting services by HARBOR.

Our aluminum consulting services include:

  • Market Studies: Get the latest market mapping studies and outlook projection for the range of aluminum products.

  • Source Information: Connect with the right buyers of primary aluminum products in all relevant geographies.

  • Competitive Data: Gain valuable intelligence on the cost of production of each bauxite mine, alumina refinery, and aluminum smelter.

  • Pricing IntelligenceKnow historical and latest transactional spot and contract prices for all aluminum products.

For up-to-date insights on the global list of sources and detailed production costs and prices for bauxite, alumina and aluminum, subscribe to market intelligence reports from HARBOR Aluminum. With decades of experience, HARBOR is the aluminum industry expert.

Contact HARBOR Aluminum Today