Aluminum is a versatile material, providing high strength relative to its mass density. From soda cans and window frames to aircraft parts and trainsets, aluminum is prized in a wide range of applications. As a result, the mining of bauxite to yield alumina, which is essentially aluminum oxide (Al2O3), is picking up around the world, especially in India, China, Malaysia, Australia, and Indonesia. The bauxite is used to derive various grades of alumina, including tabular, calcined, metallurgical, reactive, fused, bubble, high-purity, activated, and submicron.
This is because apart from metallurgy (production of aluminum metal), aluminum oxide has various other applications, namely as refractories and the manufacturing of abrasives, ceramics, aerosol lubricants, and bearings. Of these, metallurgy remains the largest application of the compound owing to the rising demand for aluminum metal. P&S Intelligence credits this wide application base of the salt while projecting a 2.2% CAGR for the alumina market between 2019 and 2024.
Apart from this, the consumption of alumina as a refractory material is also increasing. Refractories are generally used to line the walls of industrial furnaces, as they remain stable and do not disintegrate when subjected to extreme temperatures. Most prominently, alumina refractories are used in factories where steel is made. Due to the increasing demand for this iron alloy in the construction sector, the consumption of high-specialty alumina refractories is growing. As per the World Bank in 2018, almost 75% of the infrastructure required in 2050 was yet to be constructed.
On account of the booming population and rising rate of urbanization and industrialization, the construction sector of China, the U.S., Russia, India, and the U.K. continues to grow. Steel, owing to its high strength and sturdiness, is a popular choice of material in this industry. Thus, with steel production increasing around the world to meet the construction sector’s demand for raw material, the usage of alumina refractories is increasing as well.
Moreover, to suffice the demand of the end-use industries of alumina for improved raw materials, new and improved grades of the compound are becoming the key alumina market trend. For instance, newer varieties of specialty alumina offer high power density, efficient workability, defect-free manufacturing, long product life cycle, and product customizability. As a result, the applications of the salt have widened in the power, electrical and electronics, consumer products, and industrial manufacturing sectors.
Presently, the highest amount of alumina is produced in Asia-Pacific on account of the high-volume bauxite mining and processing operations in India, Indonesia, and China. As per the British Geological Survey, these three countries together produced 58.5% of the world’s alumina in 2017. Moreover, reflecting a high degree of forward integration, the agency said that almost 64% of the world’s aluminum was produced in APAC, led by the high-volume production in India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia.
In 2019, the alumina market was fragmented in nature and led primarily by companies from China, which have high production capacities. To gain an even larger industry share, companies are further expanding their production facilities. For instance, in January 2019, Vedanta Limited announced intentions to augment its capital expenditure to $300 million to increase production at its Lanjigarh alumina factory in Odisha. Other key companies in the market are United Company RUSAL PLC, Hindalco Industries Limited, Aluminum Corporation of China Limited, Rio Tinto plc, National Aluminum Company Limited, Alcoa Corporation, South32 Limited, Norsk Hydro ASA, CVG Bauxilum CA, Almatis B.V., and Alumina Limited.
Thus, with the growing demand for aluminum and steel, the consumption of aluminum oxide will rise as well.