The World Bank

Aluminum Manufacturing Industry - Pollution Prevention Guideline

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Courtesy of The World Bank

Introduction

Pollution Prevention Guidelines to provide technical advice and guidance to staff and consultants involved in pollution-related projects. The guidelines represent state-of-the-art thinking on how to reduce pollution emissions from the production process. In many cases, the guidelines provide numerical targets for reducing pollution, as well as maximum emissions levels that are normally achievable through a combination of cleaner production and end-of-pipe treatment. The guidelines are designed to protect human health; reduce mass loadings to the environment; draw on commercially proven technologies; be cost-effective; follow current regulatory trends; and promote good industrial practices, which offer greater productivity and increased energy efficiency.

Table of Contents

  • Industry Description and Practices
  • Waste Characteristics
  • Pollution Prevention and Control
  • Target Pollution Loads
  • Treatment Technologies
  • Emissions Guidelines
  • Monitoring and Reporting
  • Key Issues
  • Sources

Industry Description and Practices

The production of aluminum begins with the mining and beneficiation of bauxite. At the mine (usually of the surface type), bauxite ore is removed to a crusher. The crushed ore is then screened and stockpiled, ready for delivery to an alumina plant. In some cases, ore is upgraded by beneficiation (washing, size classification, and separation of liquids and solids) to remove unwanted materials such as clay and silica.

At the alumina plant, the bauxite ore is further crushed or ground to the correct particle size for efficient extraction of the alumina through digestion by hot sodium hydroxide liquor. After removal of “red mud” (the insoluble part of the bauxite) and fine solids from the process liquor, aluminum trihydrate crystals are precipitated and calcined in rotary kilns or fluidized bed calciners to produce alumina (Al2O3). Some alumina processes include a liquor purification step.

Primary aluminum is produced by the electrolytic reduction of the alumina. The alumina is dissolved in a molten bath of fluoride compounds (the electrolyte), and an electric current is passed through the bath, causing the alumina to dissociate to form liquid aluminum and oxygen. The oxygen reacts with carbon in the electrode to produce carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Molten aluminum collects in the bottom of the individual cells or pots and is removed under vacuum into tapping crucibles. There are two prominent technologies for aluminum smelting: prebake and Soderberg. This document focuses on the prebake technology, with its associated reduced air emissions and energy efficiencies.

Raw materials for secondary aluminum production are scrap, chips, and dross. Pretreatment of scrap by shredding, sieving, magnetic separation, drying, and so on is designed to remove undesirable substances that affect both aluminum quality and air emissions. The prevailing process for secondary aluminum production is smelting in rotary kilns under a salt cover. Salt slag can be processed and reutilized. Other processes (smelting in induction furnaces and hearth furnaces) need no or substantially less salt and are associated with lower energy demand, but they are only suitable for high-grade scrap. Depending on the desired application, additional refining may be necessary. For demagging (removal of magnesium from the melt), hazardous substances such as chlorine and hexachloroethane are often used, which may produce dioxins and dibenzofurans. Other, less hazardous methods, such as adding chlorine salts, are available.

Because it is difficult to remove alloying elements such as copper and zinc from an aluminum melt, separate collection and separate reutilization of different grades of aluminum scrap are necessary. It should be noted that secondary aluminum production uses substantially less energy than primary production—less than 10–20 gigajoules per metric ton (GJ/t) of aluminum produced, compared with 164 GJ/t for primary production (mine to aluminum metal).

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