The Aluminum Smelting Industry
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 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.
Aluminum Smelting Today
Aluminum is extracted from bauxite (sedimentary rock) during a two-step smelting process. First, 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 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 Alumina Smelting Outlook
Projections forecast growth in demand for aluminum. Through 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.
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 aluminum network are poised to reap the gains from a growing and competitive market. Gain an edge with aluminum consulting services by HARBOR.
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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.