Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust and it is abundant in our everyday life—from foil to beverage cans to airplanes to automobiles. The modern aluminum production process from bauxite mining to refining to production to recycling has changed the way the world operates. Modern aluminum makes flight possible, vehicles lighter, packaging more sustainable and buildings more energy efficient.
Bauxite ore is the world’s primary source of aluminum. The ore must first be chemically processed to produce alumina (aluminum oxide). Alumina is then smelted using an electrolysis process to produce pure aluminum metal. Bauxite is typically found in topsoil located in various tropical and subtropical regions. The ore is acquired through environmentally responsible strip-mining operations. Bauxite reserves are most plentiful in Africa, Oceania and South America. Reserves are projected to last for
Alumina is the common name given to aluminum oxide (Al2O3). Alumina is produced from bauxite, an ore that is mined from topsoil in various tropical and subtropical regions. The Bayer process, discovered in 1887, is the primary process by which alumina is extracted from bauxite. To produce pure aluminum, alumina is smelted using the Hall–Héroult electrolytic process. This process is referred to as primary production.
Primary production is the process by which alumina is smelted to pure aluminum metal. The Hall–Héroult process, simultaneously discovered in 1886 by American Charles Martin Hall and Frenchman Paul Héroult, continues as the main industrial process by which primary aluminum is made. In 1888, Martin founded the first large-scale aluminum production plant in Pittsburgh. The Reduction Company of Pittsburgh later became the Aluminum Company of America, then Alcoa.
Aluminum producers and recyclers in the aluminum industry work with individuals, communities and businesses to enable both curbside and industrial recycling programs. UBC (used beverage container) recycling is the most readily recognized of the recycling programs. Aluminum is also recycled at the end of life from products such as cars and building parts. Window frames, wire, tubing and electronics are additional examples of aluminum that is recycled at the end of life.
Secondary Production is the creation of new aluminum from recycled scrap aluminum—an environmentally sound process that is 92 percent more energy efficient than primary production. The increased adoption of recycled aluminum in manufacturing has created significant economic and environmental wins for both industry and consumers. Nearly 40 percent of the North American aluminum supply is now created through secondary production, up around 10 percent since the early 1990s.