A look at Western Australia
Alumina (aluminium oxide) is a white granular material produced from the refining of bauxite. Around 90 per cent of the world’s alumina is smelted to produce aluminium metal. Depending on the grade, it takes between four and seven tonnes of bauxite to produce approximately two tonnes of alumina, which in turn will produce one tonne of aluminium.
Alumina was Western Australia’s third most valuable mineral in 2015-16 at just over $4.9 billion. In 2015-16 the first shipments of raw bauxite were exported by Alcoa from Western Australia. This bauxite was deemed unsuitable for use in domestic refineries, and was exported to China as part of a 500,000 tonne trial program approved in October 2015.
Production is currently focused in the south-west region of the State, with the Darling Scarp containing considerable bauxite deposits. Western Australia’s bauxite reserves are estimated to be capable of sustaining more than 50 years of alumina production at current levels.
The State’s main two alumina producers are Alcoa of Australia and South32’s majority owned Worsley Alumina.
Alumina, or aluminium oxide, is extracted from bauxite to make aluminium metal that is widely used in the transport, packaging and electrical sectors.
Aluminium is the second most used metal in the world after steel. Its unique combination of properties makes it suitable for many applications, most notably the automotive industry, due to its high strength-to-weight ratio. It is also unique in that it is 100 per cent recyclable, with nearly three-quarters of all aluminium produced remaining in use today.
Non metallurgical alumina (i.e. the remaining 10% of production) is used primarily as a refractory agent, as a chemical feedstock, or in water treatment.
Across the globe
World bauxite reserves are estimated at about 28 billion tonnes, with Australia holding the second highest reserves with 6.2 billion tonnes (22 per cent), after Guinea with estimated reserves of 7.4 billion (26 per cent). Australia was the world’s second largest alumina producer in 2015, producing approximately 20 million tonnes (17 per cent of global production), more than two thirds of which was produced in Western Australia.