Alumina and Bauxite

Domestic Production and Use: In 2017, the quantity of bauxite consumed, nearly all of which was imported, was estimated to be 4.2 million tons, 15% less than that in 2016, with an estimated value of about $130 million. More than 90% of the bauxite was refined by the Bayer process for alumina or aluminum hydroxide, and the remainder went to products such as abrasives, cement, chemicals, proppants, refractories, and as a slag adjuster in steel mills. Three domestic Bayer-process refineries had a combined alumina production capacity of 4 million tons per year. Two of the refineries produced an estimated 1.5 million tons in 2017; the other refinery has remained on care-and-maintenance status since 2016. About 60% of the alumina produced went to primary aluminum smelters, and the remainder went to nonmetallurgical products, such as abrasives, ceramics, chemicals, and refractories.

Events, Trends, and Issues: In 2017, two domestic alumina refineries produced alumina from imported bauxite. A 500,000-ton-per-year alumina refinery in Burnside, LA, produced specialty-grade alumina. A 1.2-million-ton-per-year alumina refinery in Gramercy, LA, produced alumina principally for aluminum smelting. Facilities at the 200,000-ton- per-year Gramercy refinery were being upgraded to produce higher value-added specialty alumina in a project scheduled for completion in 2018.

The average price free alongside ship (f.a.s.) for U.S. imports for consumption of metallurgical-grade alumina during the first 8 months of 2017 was $456 per ton, 34% higher than that of the same period in 2016, and ranged between $395 per ton and $576 per ton. World alumina production through October 2017 increased by 13% compared with that of the same period in 2016. For the first 9 months of 2017, the estimated average price (f.a.s.) for U.S. imports for consumption of crude-dry bauxite was $29 per ton, slightly higher than that of the same period in 2016. The owner of one of the alumina refineries in the United States also owned the mine which supplied imported bauxite. The other alumina refinery in the United States purchased bauxite from unrelated mines.

In June, the Government of Indonesia permitted exports of bauxite for the first time since January 2014 when exports were prohibited as part of a mining law. Export permits were issued for 5 years to companies that were constructing refineries in Indonesia. Two refineries have been completed in Indonesia since 2015 and another under construction was expected to be completed in 2019. The Government of Malaysia continued its ban on bauxite mining through at least yearend 2017 but did permit exports of stockpiled bauxite. The ban was imposed in January 2016 because of concerns about pollution from mines and uncovered stockpiles at ports. In June, an alumina refinery and an adjacent bauxite mine in Jamaica that had been shut down since 2009 were restarted by a new owner.

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