Economics

All about the Aluminum Industry

Used in an incredible range of industrial and household products, the significance of aluminum is vast though its environmental impact is significant.

5. Description

The element aluminum, bestowed with the chemical symbol of AI, is a silvery-white metal used in abundance across various industries. The aluminum industry is quite massive, with the US aluminum industry alone contributing nearly 1 percent to the nation’s GDP. The light-weight metal is used to make an array of products for commercial uses, such as cans, foils, home appliances (e.g. refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, and laptops), cell phones, cosmetics, food additives, cake tins, and many more. The metal has also found a wide application in such other industries as the aerospace, automotive, building construction, agricultural irrigation, and electrical industries.

4. Location

The aluminum industry is concentrated within such industrialized countries as China, Germany, the United States, and Canada. In fact, these are the largest exporters of aluminum today. However, this is not necessarily because they themselves have the largest vast bauxite reserves, a primary source of aluminum. As an example, the United States, with its mere 0.02 billion metric tons of bauxite reserves, still remains one of the world leaders in the aluminum industry. Guinea, Australia, Brazil, and Vietnam are the countries with largest bauxite reserves. However, they have a smaller sphere of economic influence, and the high cost of electricity used in the aluminum production process makes it difficult for them to sustain themselves in wake of their competition in the form of well-established industrial powerhouses. Some of the countries engaged in the highest levels of import of aluminum in the world are Germany, the US, Japan, and the Netherlands. Here, it should be mentioned that both Germany and the US find themselves in top spots, both in terms of imports and exports.

3. Process

The process of aluminum production is divided among two types. The first is the primary production of aluminum, and the other is the production of aluminum products from already used and recycled materials. In the primary aluminum production process, alumina (or aluminum oxide) must be extracted from bauxite via what is known as the "Bayer process". Bauxite mining is the first step of the primary aluminum production process, wherein the raw material is extracted from the earth. Approximately 4 pounds of bauxite ore is required to produce 2 pounds of alumina, which is an oxide compound of aluminum. This alumina is then converted into pure liquid aluminum by the "Hall–Héroult process", in which electric currents are introduced into the alumina mixture, and they separate the aluminum from oxygen atoms. Aluminum products are largely made from this liquid aluminum by the method of casting, where molten aluminum is poured and shaped using molds. This last process generally takes place within factories called "foundries".

2. History

It was not until the 19th Century that humans started using aluminum products on a large scale. In fact, the first aluminum production began in 1856 in France, when a French chemist by the name of Henri-Etienne Sainte-Claire Deville used scientific methods to carry out aluminum production for industrial purposes. The metal was then used largely for luxury items and jewelries by the elite at first. With the discovery of electrolyte processes for the production of aluminum in 1886, however, there proved to be more cost-effective means to process the metal. With this revolution in alumina production methods in 1889, further changes to the landscape of the aluminum production process came about, and aluminum quickly became a more widely utilized metal.

1. Regulations

Aluminum can proffer a range of potential health problems to humans, including lung problems, kidney diseases, birth defects, brain diseases, and many more. Thus, it can cause harm to the people working in the aluminum production industries as well, as the fine aluminum particles find their way into the lungs of these people over time. It has also been proven harmful for the surrounding natural environment, as it neither gets dissolved in water nor get destroyed by any means in the environment. It simply changes its shape. For these reasons, steps have been taken by the US Federal government to address these concerns. Most importantly, regulatory measures have been put into place to limit the products aluminum may be used in, and to set standards for producers in safely disposing of waste, and limiting water, air, and soil pollution by factories and mining outfits alike.

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