Finding the World’s Aluminum Supply
Posted by Phineas Gray , on Feb, 2015
Whether you realize it or not, you come into contact with aluminum every single day. Chances are you drink soda from an aluminum can or use aluminum foil to cover your chicken while it is baking. While these might be the most common uses people associate with aluminum, they are not the only times you come into contact with the metal. Aluminum is also heavily used in manufacturing. You see it in retail display units, such as clothes racks, as well as in shelving units, work carts, worktables, and a variety of other products that require framing systems. It is lightweight, very malleable, yet surprisingly strong and durable. It also looks nice, resists rusting, is non-magnetic, and is easily recyclable. In fact, it is so easily recyclable that seventy five percent of the aluminum supply ever made is still in use today. And, forty percent of the aluminum supply used in the United States each year is post-recycling material. So, where do manufacturers get the remaining twenty five percent of the aluminum supply they use every day?
Where does the World’s Aluminum Supply Originate?
Some people think that aluminum does not exist in nature. This is not true, however. Aluminum does exist in nature, but it is extremely hard to find. It is created, for example, in large stars and supernovae when hydrogen fuses with magnesium. It can also be found inside certain volcanoes. It would not be economically sound to produce the necessary aluminum supply for manufacturing from these sources. A simple worktable might cost millions of dollars! The only demand for a worktable this expensive would be from the Kardashian family. No, the aluminum supply commonly used in manufacturing is not harvested from the stars or even volcanos. It is produced from bauxite, which is an ore found in large deposits in Australia, Jamaica, Brazil, China, Russia, India, Suriname, Indonesia and Guinea.
How is Bauxite Converted into Our Aluminum Supply?
Bauxite becomes our aluminum supply through a process known as the Bayer process. The Bayer process was invented in 1887 and has changed very little since. Why is this process necessary? Again, it isn’t very cost effective to travel to space for aluminum and who wants to check out the interior of a volcano? Bauxite itself only contains between 30 and 54 percent aluminum oxide. The rest is a mixture of silica, different iron oxides, and titanium dioxide. The Bayer process is a rather complex electrochemical process. I will not bore you with the technical details. Just know that this process results in a white powder, known as alumina. This powder gets shipped to aluminum smelters, and voila! Manufacturers have their much-needed aluminum supply.