How Aluminum is Produced? What Is Aluminum?

Aluminum production uses processes that were developed in the 1880s. Bayer developed the sodium aluminate leaching process to produce pure alumina Hall and Héroult, working independently, developed an electrolytic process for reducing the alumina to pure aluminum. The essence of the aluminum
production process is shown in Figure 4.3.
The production of aluminum starts with the mining of the aluminum ore, bauxite. Commercial grade bauxite contains between 45% and 60% alumina. The bauxite is crushed, washed to remove clay and silica materials, and is kiln dried to remove most of the water.

The crushed bauxite is mixed with soda ash and lime and passed through a digester, pressure reducer, and settling tank to produce a concentrated solution of sodium aluminate. This step removes silica, iron oxide, and other impurities from the sodium aluminate solution.

The solution is seeded with hydrated alumina crystals in precipitator towers. The seeds attract other alumina crystals and form groups that are heavy enough to settle out of solution. The alumina hydrate crystals are washed to remove remaining traces of impurities and are calcined in kilns to remove all water.

The resulting alumina is ready to be reduced with the Hall–Héroult process. The alumina is melted in a cryolite bath (a molten salt of sodium–aluminum–fluoride). An electric current is passed between anodes and cathodes of carbon to separate the aluminum and oxygen molecules.

The molten aluminum is collected at the cathode at the bottom of the bath. The molten aluminum, with better than 99% purity, is siphoned off to a crucible.

It is then processed in a holding furnace. Hot gases are passed through the molten material to further remove any remaining impurities. Alloying elements are then added.

The molten aluminum is either shipped to a foundry for casting into finished products or is cast into ingots. The ingots are formed by a direct-chill process that produces huge sheets for rolling mills, round loglike billets for extrusion presses, or square billets for production of wire, rod, and bar stock.

Final products are made by either casting, which is the oldest process, or deforming solid aluminum stock. Three forms of casting are used: die casting, permanent mold casting, and sand casting. The basic deformation processes are forging, impact extrusion, stamping, drawing, and drawing plus ironing.

Many structural shapes are made with the extrusion process. Either cast or deformed products can be machined to produce the final shape and surface texture, and they can be heat treated to alter the mechanical behavior of the aluminum.

When recycling aluminum, the scrap stock is melted in a furnace. The molten aluminum is purified and alloys are added. This process takes only about 5% of the electricity that is needed to produce aluminum from bauxite.

In addition to these conventional processes, very high strength aluminum parts can be produced using powder metallurgy methods. A powdered aluminum alloy is compacted in a mold. The material is heated to a temperature that fuses the particles into a unified solid.

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susan said...

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Alex Cook said...

More detailed info on aluminum production process can be found at

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