Aluminum, whether or not you know, is present in our daily lives in some fashion. But how did it get that way?
Let’s step back to look at how aluminum is made.
The first step in aluminum production is mining. Mining takes place in Bauxite-rich regions of the world such as the Caribbean, Australia and Africa. Bauxite is a naturally occurring ore that contains aluminum silicates that took millions of years to create from the natural chemical weathering of rocks.
After mining comes refining. Bauxite alone does not create aluminum, it’s the process of grinding the Bauxite and adding it to a mix of caustic soda and lime to which high heat is applied. After this intense process of heat and pressure occurs, aluminum oxide is created and precipitated out of the mix. It is washed and heated again. Now the mix looks like a white powder and is called ‘Alumina’. Alumina is also known as ‘aluminum oxide’.
Alumina is then smelted, which is an electrolytic reduction process. Electric current is passed through the bath of dissolved alumina and the aluminum metal is created and separates from the original chemical solution.
We aren’t done yet! After the aluminum is created it goes back into a furnace and is mixed with other metals or elements according to a precise scientific recipe in order to create a molten metal that is chemically suitable for certain applications. Purification then occurs and the molten metal is cast into ingots or molds and cools, awaiting its final processing.
Lastly, the ingot or cast material is either rolled, forged, drawn or extruded into its final form: sheet, plate, bar, tube or custom extrusion.
Bar stock can end up as the screws you buy from a hardware store and sheet products could be formed into a filing cabinet you use for important documents.
Next time you use or see something in your daily life that is aluminum- remember the long process it took to get that way and all the people and processing that happened along the way.