From the mining equipment used to the advancements made in mining technology, aluminum mining has progressed from primitive methods to the use of technologically advanced equipment and processes that promote a tremendous increase in aluminum production. Amongst the many benefits is the ability to reduce waste and chemical exposure, making today’s aluminum mining process much more environmentally friendly.
Following oxygen and silicon, aluminum is the most abundant metallic element to be found in the earth’s crust. Aluminum is used throughout many facets of our lives, from work to home to leisure.
Bauxite ore, found in flat, layered deposits beneath the surface of the earth, is loosened with explosives once bulldozers have cleared the surface above. Using the Bayer Process, which involves the use of heat, pressure and sodium hydroxide, the aluminum oxide is separated from impurities, as well as iron ore. The white crystals of aluminum oxide are washed and heated to extract water, resulting in the white powdery aluminum oxide that’s used during smelting to produce aluminum.
China and Australia are the top producers in aluminum mining, but aluminum mining occurs on all continents. Ma’aden, a Saudi Arabian mining company, produces 4 million metric tons of bauxite annually.
Once the Bayer Process was developed, the aluminum mining process became more expeditious. But advancements in mining equipment over the last several years have made the work of extracting bauxite even more efficient for mining companies around the world. According to the US Geological Survey, the worldwide production of bauxite in 2007 was 182.7 Metric Tons. This was more than double the amount produced in 2006, with the expectation that technologically advanced equipment will help aluminum production steadily increase between 2011 and 2015.