Potline patter

Some news from around the world’s aluminium smelters:

  • Rio Tinto Alcan’s smelter in Cameroon may soon have a big brother.   Despite ongoing power supply problems there, RTA is looking into the feasibility of building a 1 million tonne smelter in Cameroon, along with a 1,000mw hydroelectric power station.
  • Also in Cameroon, a US company called Hydromine is reportedly looking at building a major hydroelectric power station, with a 500,000t smelter.   Hydromine is coming at the project from the power station angle, but is allegedly already in talks with a major aluminium producer.
  • It seems Dubal is still committed to long-term capacity expansion.   At a recent conference in Dubai, one of their key executives confirmed they plan to be at 2.5 million tonnes capacity by 2015.   They expect to produce a little over 1m tonnes this year.
  • There is talk of a new enormous hydroelectric scheme for the southern part of Papua New Guinea, with power being transferred to large projects in Queensland Australia, possibly including alumina refiners, but with power also going to an aluminium smelter going into Papua New Guinea.   As the cops say on TV shows, this one is “10 years to life.”   it will be a long time coming.
  • The Indians are getting restless.   There seems to be a great deal of acimony building inside India’s aluminium industry.   Vedanta stands accused of mining bauxite in restricted areas.   Politicians are now jumping onto the case, calling Vedanta’s operations “illegal.”    It seems that to get to the bauxite, Vedanta’s mining company has had to remove virgin forest, which also happens to be the spiritual and economic home of some local ethnic groups.   The Indian Environmental Agency (NEAA) has rescinded its earlier clearance for Vedanta to mine there, and called for operations to stop immediately.  Vedanta claims it is doing nothing illegal.
  • Alumar alumina refinery in Brazil has been having operational problems recently.   But management have come out and said that they hope to be at 9,000t per day by year end.   The refinery recently went through a 2 milloin tonne expansion.
  • Rusal is looking into returning to their project to build an alumina refinery in the north of Russia, in the Komi region.   the plans were shelved in 2008 when the GFC hit, but the local government has invited Rusal back to the table.   The project would commence in 2013, and be operational 4 years later.   The proposal was for a 700,000t refiinery.

Aluminium smelter news

News from around the industry.

UC Rusal has announced that they will resume construction of its Boguchany smelter. Phase one, comprising 147,000t, will commence operations in 2013.

Garmco has shelved plans to build a rolling mill in the Sohar precinct, instead focusing on their existing plant in Bahrain.

A consortium of Japanese investors is looking to take a stake in the part-Japanese owned smelter in Indonesia. The Indonesian government has been looking to increase its holding in the operation, prompting the Japanese to increase their own position.

Chalco is said to be about to raise its price for domestic alumina, in light of continued strength in the primary aluminium industry. This is despite imports almost doubling in July, from 140,000t in June, to 270,000t last month. The Chalco price for alumina currently stands at RMB2650. The talk is that the price will rise to RMB2800.

Weiqiao looking at IPO

The following article comes from Reuters.

Weiqiao Aluminum, China’s largest private alumina producer by capacity, has submitted a listing application to Hong Kong’s stock exchange aiming to raise about $1 billion, the Ming Pao Daily News reported on Wednesday,

Shandong-based Weiqiao Aluminum, competing with Aluminum Corp of China Ltd (Chalco), was expected to launch its initial public offering in October, the newspaper cited market sources as saying.

Investment banks JP Morgan and ICBC International, were handling the deal, the newspaper reported, without giving further details.

The parent of Weiqiao Aluminum also controlled Hong Kong-listed cotton yarn and fabric maker Weiqiao Textile Co Ltd, the newspaper said.

Bacteria-treated alumina – more information

Naomi McSweeny, the scientist mentioned in the article we posted earlier this week, has kindly answered some of my dumb questions about the process and her breakthrough.

As I explained to Naomi, my knowledge of alumina is that arrives at smelters in big ships.   But I will try to bring her answers in a way which helps readers get what it’s about.

Naomi tells me that sodium oxalate is one of the major impurities that must be removed in the process of refining bauxite into alumina.    Her breakthrough is that she has not only invented an organic way of doing this, she has identified the particular bacterium that does the job.

At the moment it is removed by showering the part-processed material with more oxalate so that the impurities can be washed out.   But then the sodium oxalate has to be stored, as it is not a nice chemical.     Another way is to heat the material, but this is costly and adds to the CO2 equation.

I will let Naomi speak for herself.   “Instead of the need to store the sodium oxalate (which usually happens in very expensive, confined concrete ponds), the addition of the biological process at this stage of the cycle removes the need to store and also the capital funding required to build these storage facilities.”

“Processes for the biological degradation of oxalate have been previously patented (you can Google them and find them). The difference between those studies and this one is that no one has really defined the microbial populations that are responsible for the degradation. Everyone has taken a very “engineering” point of view – in that they have this idea, they implement it, it works at pilot-scale and so they start a full-scale process without really knowing the biology of the system and in some cases the science know-how and availability of techniques good enough to characterise the bacteria were just not available.”

“This research has not only defined the microbial ecology of the process, but isolated the key oxalate-degrading bacteria. And that is what the media release and the Fresh Science award were about. The description and characterisation of the novel bugs that I have isolated will mean that the process can be replicated at other sites around the world, especially refineries which have low-grade ore associated with high concentrations of humic and fulvic materials like here in Western Australia.”

From her email, I understand that it does not change the equation when it comes to the ratio of bauxite to alumina, nor of the amount of red mud produced, but it does lower the capital and operating cost of making alumina, as well as reduce the environmental impact of alumina refining.

No wonder she has won awards for her research.   Naomi tells me she is a PhD student.   Looks like that’s in the bag.

Anyone interested in contacting Naomi, she has posted her email address in our comments section.

Alumina breakthrough by bacteria

A colleague forwarded this story to me.   It comes from “Fresh Science”.   The information in the article is presented as is – I have no way of verifying if this is really a game-changing technology, though if the story is to be believed, then it seems pretty important.


Previously unknown species of naturally-occurring bacteria have the potential to save the alumina and aluminium industries millions of dollars while helping to reduce their impact on the environment, microbiologist Naomi McSweeney has found in a collaborative project between Alcoa of Australia, CSIRO and the University of Western Australia.

The bacteria can successfully break down and remove sodium oxalate, an organic impurity produced during the refining of low-grade bauxite into alumina. The work is being presented for the first time in public through Fresh Science, a national competition for early-career scientists. Naomi was one of 16 winners from across Australia.

At a typical refinery, sodium oxalate forms by the tonne during the production of alumina. It can affect the colour and the quality of the final product.

“Oxalate can be removed by combustion, but this process releases excess carbon dioxide”, Naomi says. The impurity may also be stored but this represents a major cost to refineries so treatment is a preferred option.

Alcoa of Australia has designed and installed an innovative large-scale bioreactor which has the capability to remove about 40 tonnes a day of sodium oxalate produced at its Kwinana refinery south of Perth in Western Australia.

“Using bacteria to break down and remove oxalate is a better, more sustainable alternative.” The bacterial process breaks down the sodium oxalate and produces significantly less carbon dioxide whilst avoiding the need to store the impurity.

Naomi has worked with researchers from Alcoa’s global Technology Delivery Group and the CSIRO’s Light Metals Flagship to identify the main bacteria involved in degrading the oxalate within the bioreactor. They used DNA fingerprinting techniques to pick out the key players. What they found was a potentially new genus of Proteobacteria and a new species of the known genus Halomonas which are able to use the carbon in the oxalate to grow.

“Oxalates, and bacteria that feed on them, are common in nature -for example in our food, in our guts and in the root systems of plants such as rhubarb,” says Naomi. “However, these oxalate-degrading microorganisms were not the ones we found in the bioreactor.” The bacteria doing most of the work in the bioreactor have never been found before.

To enhance the efficiency of the bio-removal process, the researchers are now determining the best conditions for growing these bacteria. Alcoa is seeking to apply the process to other refineries around the world, and hopes it will be able to use it to treat previously stockpiled oxalate.

Chalco resumes all idle alumina, aluminium capacity

The following article appeared in several online journals.   This one is from Interactive Investor.

Aluminum Corp of China Ltd (Chalco), the top aluminium group in China, has resumed all idle capacity of alumina and aluminium, boosting production, company executives said on Monday. “We have basically resumed all idle capacity,” Lu Youqing, vice president of Chinalco, the parent of Chalco, told Reuters. Chalco has annual capacity of 4 million tonnes of primary aluminium and 11 million tonnes of alumina, the main material for aluminium production. “(The restarts) were based on market conditions,” said Liu Qiang, Chalco’s board secretary.