China dominates Aluminum and Magnesium production with cheap power but US trying to get back by halving energy needed

World Aluminum production is about 55 million tons per year. There has been a dip with the recent economic slowdown.

There is growing global demand for aluminium, which is estimated to reach 70 million tonnes per year by 2020.

The world produces about 6 million tons per year of magnesium. China produces about 66% of the world’s magnesium. Magnesium is lighter than aluminium. In view of its weight saving advantage, magnesium’s cost competitive position improves dramatically if it’s per unit weight production cost is maintained at less than about 1.3 times the production cost of aluminum.

China dominates energy intensive aluminum and magnesium production because of its massive buildout of coal and hydro power. The US is looking to get back in the game by halving the energy needed for production.

The world will about 100 million tons per year of bauxite production by 2020 to meet the projected increase in aluminum.

Infinium is developing a technology to produce light metals such as aluminum and titanium using an electrochemical cell design that could reduce energy consumption associated with these processes by over 50%. The key component of this innovation lies within the anode assembly used to electrochemically refine these light metals from their ores. While traditional processes use costly graphite anodes that are reacted to produce CO2 during refining, Infinium’s anode can use much cheaper fuels such as natural gas, and produce a high-purity oxygen by-product. Revenue from this by-product could significantly affect aluminum production economics. Traditional cell designs also waste a great deal of heat due to the necessity of keeping the reactor open to the air while contaminated CO2 rapidly exits the chamber. Since Infinium’s anode keeps the oxygen or CO2 anode gas away from the main reactor chamber, the entire system may be far more effectively insulated.

If successful, INFINIUM would deploy low-cost, energy-efficient aluminum-production cells as a drop-in replacement into large production plants. Retrofitting existing aluminum plants reduces risk and capital costs, making light metals a more cost effective option in manufacturing. This technology also enables aluminum plants to replace expensive graphite with cheap, domestically available natural gas as a key component of light metal manufacturing.

Infinium is the sole manufacturer of metals with Pure Oxygen Anodes, and has already demonstrated the ability to produce Magnesium, Titanium, Tantalum, Neodymium, Dysprosium, and solar-grade silicon from their oxides. By separating the metal production chamber from anode gases, INFINIUM anodes eliminate corrosive and toxic anode gas contamination, are uniquely able to reduce cell energy losses by 60% or more, and eliminate the cost, energy, and emissions of graphite anode production. The company has identified key advantages of its technology in aluminum production as: 1) virtually eliminating CO2 emissions, which currently create 7-10 lb CO2 for every lb of aluminum produced, 2) enabling 3x-5x higher production output per footprint, and 3) reducing the cost by halving the energy required and eliminating the need for consumable graphite anodes.

Infinium has a white paper on their process. The white paper focuses on the magnesium electrochemical cell.

Making Magnesium a More Cost and Environmentally Competitive Option (9 pages

There is a Global Steel report 2014 from Ernst and Young

Automotive steel demand accounts for around 12% of global steel consumption. World steel production is around 1.5 billion tons per year. Auto steel is around 180 million tons per year.

SOURCES – World Aluminum, Wikipedia, infinium metals, EY, gossan, SteelGuru