Alumina

Cundiff, W. H. ; Barham, W. L. ; Breuer, R. G. ; Shaffer, J. W. ; Elston, W. D. ; Hampton, G. B. ; McLaughlin, A. E. ; Mulloy, J. W. ; Mulloy, J. W. ; Murphy, J. F.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 20
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1985
Introduction Alumina (aluminum oxide) is the material from which all the world's aluminum is produced. In the Western World, all the alumina is made from bauxite by the Bayer process. In the nearly 150 years since aluminum was first isolated by Oersted, the metal has grown from a laboratory curiosity to a position of major importance in the world's commerce. In terms of annual production rates aluminum is first among nonferrous metals. Oersted's discovery-reduction of aluminum chloride with potas¬sium amalgam-was improved on by Ste. Claire Deville, whose so¬dium amalgam reduction of aluminum chloride led to the commercial production of aluminum in France in 1855. Ste. Claire Deville's method prevailed until 1886 when Charles Martin Hall and Paul T. Heroult each invented a process for the production of aluminum by the electrolysis of alumina dissolved in molten cryolite. The inven¬tion by Karl Josef Bayer in 1888 of an economical process for making very pure aluminum oxide (alumina) from bauxite established the necessary link between known ores and the Hall-Heroult reduction process. Bayer's work completed the scientific base-the ore bauxite refined to alumina by the Bayer process (U.S. Patent No. 515,895), the alumina reduced to aluminum in the Hall-Heroult cell (U.S. Patent No. 400,766--upon which today's aluminum industry is founded. Small-scale production of aluminum in the U.S. began in 1888 utilizing the Hall cell. By 1903, bauxite properties and a Bayer process refining step had been incorporated into the production activities. On this base the aluminum industry in the U.S. has grown at an annual compounded rate of 15%. Since 1946 the annual growth rate has been 10%.1 The rapid growth of the industry is the result of many factors among which are the existence of widespread bauxite ore deposits; a sound and economic production technology; and the properties of the metal-lightness, strength, ductility, good electrical and heat con¬ductivity, and pleasing appearance, which lead to ever greater de¬mands for aluminum in an industrializing society. At the inception of the industry, the only market that could be found for aluminum was in the production of cooking utensils. How¬ ever, the rapidly accelerating industrial and technological development of the Western World soon created new needs for aluminum, and today aluminum is marketed in a broad range of industrial, commer¬cial, and consumer applications. The principal uses for aluminum are:' building and construction, 22%; transportation, 18%; electrical, 13%; packaging, 11%; consumer durables, 10%; machinery and equipment, 7%; other, 19%. The 1974 production of primary alumi¬num in the world was 14.5 million short tons, which at an approximate ingot price of 40¢ per lb puts a value of $11.6 billion on the industry product prior to fabrication. While aluminum is widely distributed in the earth's crust and is a major constituent of many rocks and soils, to date no method of extraction of aluminum from such nonbauxite material has been brought to commercial practice in the Western World. In the USSR alumina is produced by the complex processing of nepheline syenite, but elsewhere all commercial production of alumina is from bauxite. A brief discussion of recent developments and other processes for alumina is included in the subsection "Other Processes for Alumina," page 19-15. In early 1973, a major U.S. aluminum producer announced the successful development of processes for the production of aluminum from aluminum chloride. This achievement promises to exert a major influence on the future of the aluminum industry. In the initial com¬mercial application of this new technology, Bayer alumina will be chlorinated, and the aluminum chloride then reduced by electrolysis. Important claims for the new processes are lower energy requirements (one-third less than obtainable in Hall cells) and reduced labor costs. Capital costs are said to be no greater than for conventional plants. While the announced intention is to produce the aluminum chlo¬ride from Bayer process alumina, the new chloride reduction process will eliminate the other raw materials, carbon and fluorides, required by the conventional Hall cells. The electrodes in the chloride cell will not be consumed on the reduction process and the electrolyte will have, as the name indicates, a chloride rather than a fluoride base. 2. Bauxite Definition and Origin. Bauxite is a naturally occurring raw material composed principally of a mixture of one or more of the hy¬drated aluminum oxide minerals gibbsite (Al2O2 3H2O), boehmite (Al2O3 H2O), and diaspore (Al2O, - H2O), and impurities of silica, iron oxide, titania, and other various elements in trace amounts. It is an end or near-end product of chemical weathering. Depending on the amount of iron impurities, the color of bauxite varies from dark red and brown to pink to white. Some bauxite is finely divided, free digging earthy material, while other forms are dense and rocky, requiring explosives in mining. Many gradational forms exist. It is one of the most variable of mineral raw materials in chemical composition and physical appearance. It is generally believed that bauxite deposits resulted from intense chemical weathering of aluminum-bearing rocks or formations under tropical or subtropical conditions with alternating wet and dry sea¬sons. Topographic conditions were favorable for drainage and the in-situ accumulation of aluminum, iron, and titanium oxides. There was low to moderate topographic relief with a minimum of erosion during long quiet periods in earth history.2 The occurrence of bauxite is widespread and it has been found on all continents except Antarctica. Production was reported from 27 countries in 1974, at which time total world production was over 79 million metric tons. Of this production 76% was from seven coun¬tries-Australia, Jamaica, Surinam, Guinea, USSR, Guyana, and Greece-which ranked in that order of production. In Table 1 are shown typical compositions of bauxite from some
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