Demand for bauxite is growing at a faster rate than the growth in global industrial production. In the emerging economies of Asia and India, bauxite demand is particularly strong.
Over 85% of the bauxite mined globally is converted to alumina for the production of aluminium metal. An additional 10% goes to non-metal uses in various forms of specialty alumina and the remainder is used for non-metallurgical bauxite applications (e.g. commercial applications as abrasives and refractories).
Australia’s aluminium industry is a large integrated industry of mining, refining, smelting and semi-fabrication, which is of major economic importance nationally and globally. Australia was the leading producer of bauxite and alumina globally in 2008, and the world’s fifth largest aluminium producer. Based on International Aluminium Institute data, Australian production totalled 63 million tonnes (Mt) of bauxite (31% of world production), 19.7 Mt of alumina (33%) and 2 Mt of aluminium (8%).
According to Geoscience Australia, Australia has demonstrated bauxite resources of 7.9 Gt, and economically demonstrated resources of 6.2 Gt (2008). This reserve base ranks Australia as the second largest bauxite province in the world after the Republic of Guinea.
This provides a world class resource base for the Australian industry, which comprises five bauxite mining operations, seven alumina refineries, six primary aluminium smelters, twelve extrusion plants and two rolled product (sheet, plate and foil) mills.
The industry is geared to serve world demand for alumina and aluminium with more than 80% of production being exported.
The expanding market
Due to a combination of factors, including continued above-average growth of the Chinese economy, a shortage of bauxite deposits in China and the higher cost of treating the difficult Chinese domestic bauxite, the low capital and operating costs of Chinese alumina refineries and aggressive expansion in Chinese alumina refining capacity, we expect that future demand for bauxite sales to China will continue to grow rapidly.
There is a falling output of bauxite in Indonesia, especially refractory-grade bauxite, due to exhaustion of traditional deposits. Indonesia has long been a source of gibbsite-rich bauxite supplies to China. Australia is the logical future supplier of bauxite into Chinese alumina refineries.
Monthly bauxite imports by China