Bauxite is the primary mineral source of alumina for aluminium.
Between four and seven tonnes bauxite ore are needed to make
two tonnes of alumina, which subsequently produces around one
tonne of aluminium.
Bauxite is also used to produce alumina for non-metallurgical
applications, which typically make up 10% of global end uses.
These include water purification, refractory materials,
pharmaceuticals, artificial marble, paper sizing, ceramics,
abrasives, petroleum processing, plastic and flame
In addition to alumina, bauxite itself is used as a refractory
material, in Portland cement, abrasives, mineral fibres, steel
and calcium aluminate cements.
refractory products can also be obtained from Russia, India
and Brazil, however these sources ordinarily cannot meet
strict quality specifications for refractories
Typical industrial specifications for
Most of the remainder represents water of crystallisation
(loss on ignition, LOI) which is removed by
World bauxite and alumina flowchart**
|**Based on 2014 figures
Source: Richard Flook, Mosman Resources
introduced a ban on unprocessed metal ore exports in January
2014, the country was the world’s top supplier
of metallurgical bauxite to China. The embargo was an attempt
to force domestic miners to develop smelters that would add
value to the country's resources and create jobs.
companies, including bauxite miners, said building smelters
was unfeasible in the absence of supporting infrastructure
and export revenue. Indonesia’s income from
mining has subsequently plummeted.
Miners have since
turned elsewhere to meet demand from China. Malaysian bauxite
production, for example, quadrupled to 962,799 tonnes in 2014
from 208,770 tonnes the year before, according to
Malaysia’s Minerals and Geoscience
the world’s largest bauxite producer, with 81m
tonnes mined in 2014. Total world production, according to
the USGS, was 237m tonnes in 2014, which means Australia
produced 35% of world supply that year.
Australia is also a
substantial alumina producer, accounting for about 20% of
world production – the bulk of which is exported to
be smelted overseas. Around 19m tonnes of Australian alumina
was exported to China in 2015, making it China’s
largest supplier that year.
In 2015, Australia
produced about 50,000 tonnes fused alumina – a
figure which has been relatively stable for the last 10 years
but which is relatively small compared to China, which
exports around 30,000-50,000 tpm.
consultant at Australia-based Mosman Resources, believes
consumption of bauxite in refractories, both directly and in
brown fused alumina, accounted for around 18% of the total
non-metallurgical bauxite market in 2015.
production was just over 35m tonnes last year, a reduction of
nearly 4% compared to 2014, following the negative trend in
Chinese steel output.
In 2013, about 25m
tonnes bauxite residue from alumina refining was created in
Australia. Reusing this material as a road base is becoming
increasingly attractive, providing a secondary revenue stream
for producers and resolving problem of disposing of the
material, which can be costly.
fine-grained bauxite residue has been found to act as a
substitute for agricultural lime in building materials by
Australia-based Alumina Ltd. In areas in close proximity to
bauxite deposits, raw bauxite ore has already been used as a
road capping layer by many Australian councils and local
oxide exporters - at least 23% of Australia's exports go to
|Source: OEC MIT
bauxite and alumina production (approx 13.2m
Flook, Mosman Resources
The bulk of
Australian bauxite production comes from the state of Western
Australia, which accounts for 57.9% of the total volume,
followed by Queensland, at 33.5%. The Northern Territory
produced the remaining 8.6%.
There are just four
companies in the industry, operating a total of six mines.
Rio Tinto Plc is the largest producer, with 55.9% of market
share by revenue, while Alcoa lies second, with 31.1%.
South32 is the third largest Australian producer, with a
market share of 12.9%, while Australia Bauxite Ltd in
Tasmania is ranked fourth, with around 10%.
Rio Tinto mines
bauxite from its Weipa mine in Queensland and the Gove
project in the Northern Territory. Gove and Weipa are among
the world’s highest grade bauxite deposits, with
average grades of between 49% and 53% alumina, according to
Bauxite mined at
Weipa is sent 2,000km to Gladstone in northern Queensland,
where it is refined at Rio’s Yarwun refinery and
Queensland Alumina Ltd’s (QAL) refinery, of
which Rio owns 80%.
The QAL refinery
produces around 3.95m tpa smelter grade alumina, while output
at Yarwun is approximately 2.2m tpa alumina, although it has
the capacity to produce up to 3.4m tonnes.
Prior to 2008, Rio
Tinto Aluminium produced up to 150,000 tpa calcined bauxite
for abrasives and proppant agent applications, filing
proppant patents in the 1980s as Comalco Aluminium Ltd. In
the same year that Rio stopped producing non-metallurgical
bauxite in Australia, US-based Carbo Ceramics Inc. switched from
Australian bauxite imports to buying material from
When Rio was
supplying calcined bauxite from Weipa, typical grades
supplied from the project were consistent with the
Chemical analysis of Weipa calcined
Iron Oxide (Fe2O3)
Rio Tinto closed
its refinery at Gove in May 2014 and now sends Gove bauxite
directly overseas. In 2015, production from the site reached
7m tonnes, up from 6.5m tonnes in 2014.
Rio Tinto has
demonstrated that Australian bauxite can used to make
proppants. Given the high cost of importing frac sand into
Australia from the US, along with rise of onshore gas
activity in Australia, there could be opportunities for the
development of bauxite-based ceramic proppants manufacturing
companies that have shown their readiness for proppant
production include Minotaur Exploration Ltd and Coretrack
Ltd. Minotaur was recently awarded a government grant to turn
clays found at its exploration sites in southern Australia
into ceramic proppants. Coretrack, meanwhile, is looking to
make ceramic proppants from fly ash, using small amounts of
Alcoa manages the
Huntly and Willowdale mines in Western Australia as well as
the Wagerup, Kwinana and Pinjarra refineries in the state.
Ore from Huntly and Willowdale is refined to produce about
10m tpa alumina, which is then exported through ports at
Bunbury and Kwinana.
refinery, with a capacity of 2.15m tpa, produces
metallurgical alumina and a variety of speciality aluminas
for various industrial and manufacturing applications,
including water purification, refractory materials,
pharmaceuticals, artificial marble and flame
Up until last year,
Alcoa was one of two Australian producers of
non-metallurgical alumina, sometimes called chemical grade
alumina. However in 2014-15, Doral Fused Materials Pty Ltd
shut down its Western Australia Rockingham fused alumina
plant, which had been producing material for refractory,
abrasive and ceramic applications. This left Alcoa as
Australia’s only direct non-metallurgical
Once bauxite is
refined into alumina, it is harder to trace its movement
through the supply chain to end uses. However, one company,
China-based Lianyungang Zhong Ao Aluminum Co. Ltd,
told IM that it uses
Alcoa’s alumina in refractory, ceramic and
In 2003, Alcoa
divested its speciality refractory, ceramic and
polishing-application alumina business, now known as Almatis
GmbH. Germany-headquartered Almatis now has around 550,000
tonnes speciality alumina sales.
The Worsley alumina
mine and refinery in Western Australia is a joint venture
between South32 (86%), Japan Alumina Associates (Australia)
Pty Ltd (10%) and Sojitz Alumina Pty Ltd (4%). The refinery
has the capacity to produce 4.6m tpa metallurgical
Australian Bauxite Ltd
The Bald Hill mine
in Tasmania, owned and operated by Australian Bauxite,
tonnes bauxite. Production currently stands at 40,000 tpa,
however the company believes it can increase its capacity to
2m tpa by opening up additional bauxite operations in the
Room to grow?
consultancy service, CM Group, estimated in May 2015 that
China will produce 72m tpa alumina by 2025 and that Chinese
domestic bauxite inventories have almost halved from about
40m tonnes in November 2013 to around 20m tonnes in November
Chinese alumina production growth
|Source: CM Group
In August last year, CM Group forecast that
China’s bauxite imports would rise from around
50m tonnes in 2015 to over 100m tonnes in 2025 – an
increase attributed to higher shipments to Shanxi and Henan
provinces. This could change supply dynamics in Australia, as
Chinese companies assess the economics of refining
domestically. In 2015, Alcoa sent trial shipments of
unprocessed bauxite to overseas refineries to determine the
potential for direct export.
Rio Tinto’s outgoing CEO, Sam Walsh, announced
last year that he had signed off a $1.9bn South of Embley
expansion project for the company’s Weipa
operations. The project involves a staged increase in
production to 50m tpa.
Australian Bauxite, meanwhile, holds additional bauxite
tenements at Goulburn, New South Wales and Binjour,
Queensland. The Goulburn tenements include the Taralga
deposit, which has an inferred resource of 37.9m tonnes at an
average grade of 39.2% Al2O3, with 53%
of the resource suitable for direct shipping.
Queensland Bauxite Ltd holds more than 400km2 of
bauxite prospective terrain in Queensland and lodged a formal
Minerals Development Licence application in January for its
South Johnstone project – a low silica, high iron
(25-31% Fe2O3) bauxite resource, formed
as a weathering horizon on basalts.
In China, work is being conducted to extract alumina and iron
from high-iron bauxite deposits through a
calcification-carbonisation method. Recent studies lead by
Zhang Weiguang have shown that after the alumina and iron
have been extracted, the final residues, consisting
principally of calcium carbonate (CaCO3)and
calcium silicate (CaSiO3) can be used directly in
the cement industry.
Metro Mining Ltd hopes to mine up to 2m tpa from its
Queensland Bauxite Hills project, which contains a 48.2m
tonne high grade reserve (50.2% alumina and 6.3% reactive
silica (SiO2)). The company recently announced its
intention to raise $5.6m to fund the final stages of
preparation for developing the site, including a definitive
The Urquhart bauxite project, located 5km southwest of Weipa,
is jointly owned by Metallica Minerals Ltd (50%), through its
subsidiary Oresome Australia, and China’s Ozore
Resources (50%). The inferred mineral resource estimate for
Urquhart, using a 45% Al2O3 cut-off,
for direct shipping, stands at 7.5m tonnes bauxite at 51%
Al2O3 and 16.3% SiO2 as of
May 2015. The owners have lodged a Mining Lease Application
for the project, which includes a proposed North Point Jetty
In the Northern Territory, both Alcoa and an indigenous-owned
mining company, Gulkula Mining, are exploring for bauxite.
Gulkula is exploring the Dhupuma Plateau with the intention
of employing indigenous Australians on the project, if it is
In Western Australia, Bauxite Resources Ltd holds licences
for 396.5m tonnes bauxite resources grading at 40.2%
Al2O3 and 2.4% SiO2. The
company has completed a scoping study for mine and rail
logistics for the Fortuna deposit, which contains 40.2m
Australia's bauxite deposits, alumina refineries and