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Aluminium [tm 36, Panorama 1997] is a material with a large range of applications, in the transportation, construction and packaging industries, the electricity sector, in all high voltage electricity distribution systems, household appliances, and the mechanical and agricultural sectors. It is light, has good electrical conductivity and forms a surface oxide layer when exposed to air that prevents further corrosion. Aluminium is highly reactive particularly in the form of powder and is used in alumino-thermic reactions to produce a variety of other metals. The aluminium industry is the youngest and largest of the non-ferrous metal industries, aluminium smelting only began about a century ago. The EU aluminium industry directly represents a workforce of about 200000 people and its annual turnover is in the order of 25billion €. Total production of un-wrought metal amounted to 3.9 million tonnes in 1997. About 43% of this output is accounted for by the processing of recycled scrap, which has been constantly increasing.

Sources of materials

Primary aluminium is produced from bauxite that is converted into alumina. 100 tonnes of bauxite produces 40 - 50 tonnes of alumina (aluminium oxide) which then produces 20 – 25 tonnes of aluminium. Most of the bauxite is mined outside Europe but there are several alumina production facilities within Europe. The secondary industry is dependent on sources of scrap. Scrap can be termed “New Scrap” that is generated during the production and fabrication of wrought and cast products or “Old Scrap” that is recovered from articles at the end of their useful life. The recycling rate of “New Scrap is 100% of the amount produced. The supply of raw materials to the EU primary and secondary industry is largely met by domestic alumina production and scrap recycling. The total metal output however, falls short of the processing industry needs and at present it meets only 55% of the EU demand.

Production and consumption

The European aluminium industry features mining and alumina production, primary and secondary smelting and metal processing into semi-finished products (e.g. bars, profiles, wires, sheets, foils, tubes, pipes) or speciality products (e.g. powders, special alloys)

Primary aluminium production.jpg

Primary aluminium production,1997.jpg

Production sites

At the beginning of 1998, twenty-two primary aluminium smelters were operating in the EU, and a further 8 in the EEA. The number of producer companies is, in fact, much smaller: the major ones are Aluminium Pechiney (F), VAW aluminium (D), Alcoa Spain (E), Alcoa Italy (I), Hoogovens (NL), British Alcan (UK), Hydro (N) and Alusuisse (CH). Some of these companies operate plants in different European countries or have subsidiaries or branches in other parts of the world, or are part of international corporations. The number of companies involved in secondary aluminium production is very much larger. There are about 200 companies whose annual production of secondary aluminium is more than 1000 tonnes per year [tm 116, Alfed 1998]. There is a good integration of the rolling activity with the production processes but the extrusion industry is much less integrated, with about 200 production sites scattered on the EU territory.

European aluminium production.jpg

Source: BAT for the Surface Treatment of Metals & Plastics, 2006

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