The Journey of Scrap Aluminum

Aluminum is not a naturally occurring metal so it requires a vast amount of energy and effort to produce it. This metal has been in commercial use for only about 200 years, which is fairly recent. Aluminum is basically sourced by three different avenues: from the core, recycling aluminum materials, and importing aluminum from other countries.

Aluminum is used in a number of everyday packaging products such as soda cans, foils, plates and even wrappers for candy and cigarettes. As stated by the Aluminum Industry statistics, nearly 44 percent of aluminum used in the United States was produced from the core, 33 percent was recycled and the remaining 17 percent was imported in the year 2014. Nearly 22 billion tons of aluminum is used in the country every year and this number is bound to increase as years progress. Today we explore how aluminum is made from the core source and the journey of the raw material used to make this metal into the packaging or other products we use everyday.

Although aluminum is a versatile metal, one of the key raw materials required to make aluminum is bauxite. This material is sourced from several meters under the equator. Once this is sourced, it is first thoroughly cleaned to get rid of all the dirt and grime, and then the cleaned material is sent to be ground in a bauxite grinder. The availability of bauxite affects the scrap aluminium prices in many respects.

Journey of Scrap Aluminum From the Core

When bauxite goes through the grinding process, it is further cleansed to produce an extraction known as alumina. This material often contains traces of oxide that must be fully separated in order to extract pure aluminum. This is done by introducing a hot mixture of caustic soda and lime into the material, heated for a period and then filtered to get a white powder. This white powder is evidently the purest form of aluminum oxide. The further processes focus on converting this pure white powder of aluminum oxide into the aluminum metal.

The first step in this process is refining. The aluminum oxide is used with electricity and carbon. These are very important components. While the electricity is introduced in spurts, the anode and the cathode is made of carbon. The alumina releases carbon dioxide when the anode reacts with the oxygen. This reaction produces liquid aluminum from the aluminum oxide. This liquid aluminum is then molded into the desired product. It is either shaped into ingots or into foundry alloy, which takes place in the extrusion phase.

The extrusion phase is the extremely labor-intensive stage of all stages in the production of aluminum. The aluminum ingots provides the flexibility to further mold the aluminum into any desired product. The hot ingots are cooled first and then pressed into large machinery to be shaped into tools. These are called a die. Then it is rolled into long and thin sheets. These sheets are mostly used to create the aluminum foils. The foundry alloy casts the liquid aluminum into molds of varied shapes and sizes which can then be further used to make wheels for cars or other auto parts as needed.

Recycling of Aluminum

In the year 2014, the aluminum industry in the United States recycled an estimated 1.70 billion pounds of used beverage cans, accounting for 66.5% of beverage can shipments. Scrap aluminum prices constantly fluctuate.

Aluminum is corrosion resistant, which makes it one of the most versatile materials that is effortlessly recycled without making an negative impact on the total quantity. It is a very smart and cost-efficient alternative to producing the metal from raw sources. Whether the source is from soda cans, aluminum kitchen foils, or candy wrappers, the discarded materials can be recycled into the same material or another product.

The process of recycling saves vast amounts of energy that creates aluminum from scratch. To be precise, recycling only requires about 4 percent of the total energy! Sourcing aluminum from recycled products rather than virgin aluminum only releases 5 percent of carbon emissions into the environment. This makes recycling aluminum an environmentally-sustainable way to reuse materials and preserve the natural resources of our planet.