ALUMINIUM
North American Producers
February 2019
When talking about major producers, focus tends to drift towards China and Australia—after all, those two countries hold the majority of the top-ten bauxite and top-ten alumina producing sites, and China holds the top-ten aluminum smelters.

North, Central, and South America, however, hold a substantial amount of the world’s production capacity. While they—even combined—don’t hold a candle to China’s output and massive growth, they still warrant a closer look.

 

 

Brazil

Brazil holds the most total alumina and aluminium producing sites in the Americas and is the only one to have any of its sites feature in the world’s top-ten producers list—namely, the Alunorte and Alumar sites. As the third-largest producer of alumina—but not a notable producer of finished aluminium—the country has begun to see increasing international interest in investments and new operations for bauxite and downstream refining.

Despite holding several high-capacity sites, however, the country’s alumina industry is generally considered to be in poor shape. Annual production of alumina has been sliding downwards ever since 2014, largely due to curtailments and shutdowns. There are hopes that the country will bounce back in 2019, but these hopes largely hinge on the lifting of Alunorte curtailments. While positive steps have been made in that direction, it appears that the federal government may uphold its restrictions well into 2019.

 

Jamaica

Jamaica was previously the world’s largest bauxite producer. Its bauxite reserves remained entirely unexploited until the post-WW2 surge in aluminium demand. First bauxite was shipped from the country in 1952, and it quickly became the world’s leading bauxite producer by 1957. It could produce nearly 5Mtpa—almost a quarter of the world’s supply.

Alumina production in Jamaica also rose sharply, with 1968 seeing the island’s two refineries reach a capacity of 1Mtpa. The island’s infrastructure has never been practicably able to generate or transport the significant amounts of electricity needed to run an aluminium refinery. The 1970’s onwards saw countries overtake Jamaica in bauxite and alumina production—as their capacity increased and Jamaica struggled with production closures—and the country is no longer a significant alumina heavyweight.

 

Canada

Canada has largely retained its alumina and aluminium production over the last decade.  Its only alumina refinery—Vaudreuil Alumina—has been in production since 1936, overhauled in the early 2000’s, and is likely to keep producing well into the future. It uses a low-temperature Bayer process to keep costs low and produces a steady ~1.4ktpa of alumina which is supplied to domestic Rio-Tinto-owned smelters.

The country has nine operating Aluminium smelters, all of which produce less than 700tpa—and all but two produce less than 500mtpa. Most maintain low energy costs due to hydroelectric supply. These smelters supply much of the United States’ aluminium demand, but recent tariffs are placing strain on this trade relationship.

 

United States

While the United States used to hold the lion’s share of alumina and aluminium capacity in North America, this is no longer the case. Closures and production reductions have seen the country shrink its active production from 2,700Mt of aluminium and 4,205Mt of alumina to just 809Mt and 800Mt respectively. Rising power costs have made it increasingly difficult for US producers operating outdated reduction technology to compete with semi-finished imports and a rising secondary aluminium supply.

Gramercy Alumina, operated by Noranda Aluminium, is the country’s only remaining alumina producer. It uses low-power methods of refining and has low input costs due to a captive bauxite supply from the Noranda -owned St. Ann bauxite operation in Jamaica.

The US also has some prospective bauxite operations, including the Blawn Mountain project currently under exploration, but has no active bauxite producers and no likely forecast for the serious production of bauxite, alumina, or aluminium.