Alumina Production Breakthrough Closer to Replacing Bayer Process

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If the aim of the latest alumina symposium in India organized by the International Bauxite, Alumina and Aluminum Society was to provide a platform for the industry to highlight technological developments, new products and their market potential, it was not far off the mark.

Company representatives showcased some groundbreaking technologies. The Times of India reported that Orbite Aluminae Incorporated (OLI), a private Canadian company, had developed a process of alumina production that, instead of bauxite, was using aluminous clay or clay rich in alumina and silica to produce extremely pure alumina that was then converted into aluminum.

According to the report, this first-of-its-kind technology will most likely replace the 125-year-old ‘Bayer Process’ used to produce alumina. The delegates at the conference, held at Nagpur in Central India, were told that this process was a result of almost 12 years of research and had yielded good results on pilot scale.

OLI had already patented the process in the US, China and a few other countries. The report quoted OLI’s Director, Sales and Marketing, Antoine Charbonneau, as saying that a production plant capable of making one ton per day would be coming online starting in January 2013 in Quebec.

The technology, in all probabilities, will also raise the status of the Canadian industry, which is already the third-largest producer of aluminum in the world. This alumina will be used in the LED equipment market, Antoine said.

Though global experts have forecast demand growth for bauxite, from which the aluminum smelter feedstock alumina is derived, alumina refineries have been complaining of supply constraints lately. The story in India, too, is along similar lines — despite the fact that bauxite is to be found almost everywhere in the world. The supply constraints come from falling volumes, which in turn is because of the over-exploitation of the mines.

OLI said it has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Russian aluminum company Rusal. An OLI official also indicated that India’s National Aluminum Company (Nalco) was also in the process of negotiating a transfer of technology.

Sohrab Darabshaw contributes an Indian perspective to MetalMiner. 

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