Aluminum is an important industrial metal that is used in a wide range of applications globally.
While it is one of the Earth’s most abundant metals, aluminum is rarely found as a free metal. That means companies can’t actually mine for the metal itself — instead, they mine bauxite, which is a large source of aluminum. The bauxite is processed to create alumina, which is then refined to create aluminum using cryolite as a solvent.
The reason aluminum is one of the most in-demand industrial metals is its versatility. The metal is non-toxic and lightweight; it also has a high thermal conductivity, is resistant to corrosion and can be easily cast, machined and formed. Aluminum is the second most malleable metal and sixth most ductile, and it is non-magnetic and non-sparking.
This wide array of benefits means aluminum is used in a huge variety of products, including cans, foils, kitchen utensils, window frames, beer kegs and airplane parts. It also has new applications that make it an important element in the green transition.
Because the metal is a good conductor of electricity and is less costly than copper and other more expensive metals, it is often used in electricity transmission lines. Aluminum is also used as an alloy in steel manufacturing, mixing with stronger, less malleable metals like copper, manganese, magnesium and silicon. This increases strength, but allows the material to remain relatively light. One last benefit of aluminum is its high recovery rate. Because the silvery metal can be recycled time and time again, it has as much as 95 percent energy savings compared to the energy used in primary production.
In 2018, the US added aluminum to its critical metals list. However, the world’s largest economy does not have enough domestic aluminum supply to meet its industrial demand, meaning it must turn to aluminum imports.
China is the world’s largest aluminum producer by far, but the ongoing trade tensions between the globe’s two biggest economies mean the US can’t rely on China for a secure aluminum supply chain.
The US Geological Survey notes that world aluminum output increased slightly in 2022, coming in at 69 million metric tons (MT) compared to 67.5 million MT the previous year. Below is a look at the nations that make up the world’s top aluminum-producing countries. Data was taken from the US Geological Survey’s latest report on aluminum.
Mine production: 40 million MT
First on this list of aluminum-producing countries is China. The world’s leading producer was once again responsible for more than half of global aluminum output in 2022 at 40 million MT. The country also consumed a considerable amount of the metal.
Statista points out that China has experienced consistent growth in primary annual aluminum production over the past decade. China’s aluminum production increased to a record high in 2022 ‘with a boost from newly launched capacity and a relaxation of power supply restrictions,’ Reuters reported.
Mine production 4 million MT
India is another aluminum-producing country whose output has grown consistently in recent years. In 2021, its production totaled 3.97 million MT, overtaking Russia. In 2022, India increased its aluminum production again, although marginally, to 4 million MT.
Hindalco Industries (NSE:HINDALCO), the world’s leading aluminum-rolling company, is located in Mumbai. Concerns that Indian exports might be impacted by a ban or limitations on the amount of scrap aluminum imported by China previously weighed on the Indian sector. However, the Chinese government lifted its import ban in late 2020.
Vedanta (NSE:VEDL), India’s largest aluminum-producing company, believes the country will see its aluminum output reach 5 million MT by 2026 or 2027.
Mine production: 3.7 million MT
Last year, Russia produced 3.7 million MT of aluminum, up slightly from the 3.64 million MT it put out in 2021. Leading global aluminum producer RUSAL is headquartered in Moscow.
In 2021, 6 percent of US aluminum imports originated from Russia. Now, Russia’s aggressive war in Ukraine and the resulting sanctions are curbing the country’s ability to contribute aluminum supply to the US and the global aluminum market.
Mine production: 3 million MT
Last year, Canada’s aluminum production was just slightly down from the previous year’s total — it came in at 3 million MT in 2022 compared to 3.14 million MT in 2021. Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO), another leading global aluminum producer, has roughly 16 operations in the country.
The province of Québec is the main aluminum jurisdiction in Canada. There are 10 primary aluminum smelters in Canada, with nine of those being located in Québec, and the province is also home to an alumina refinery. The final smelter is located across the country in the province of BC.
Canada was again the leading supplier of imported aluminum for the US in 2022, accounting for half of all imports.
5. United Arab Emirates
Mine production: 2.7 million MT
Fifth on this list of aluminum-producing countries is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Aluminum production in the UAE has remained steady over the last few years, with an uptick from 2.54 million MT in 2021 to 2.7 million MT in 2022.
Emirates Global Aluminum is the largest aluminum producer in the Middle East and contributes nearly 4 percent of all global aluminum. The UAE was the source of 9 percent of US aluminum imports in 2022.
Mine production: 1.6 million MT
Bahrain’s aluminum production increased narrowly from 1.56 million MT in 2021 to 1.6 million MT in 2022, but still managed to overtake Australia. The aluminum sector is one of the largest sources of export revenue for the Middle Eastern nation.
In 2019, Bahrain Aluminium expanded its production capacity and now operates the largest single-site aluminum smelter in the world. The increased capacity is a boon for the significant local downstream aluminum products industry in the country.
Mine production: 1.5 million MT
Australia’s aluminum production was down marginally in 2022 at 1.5 million MT from 1.57 million MT the previous year. In addition to its work as a major aluminum producer in Canada, Rio Tinto also produces the industrial metal in Australia. The mining major sees aluminum as a valuable resource in the new automotive industry.
However, Australia’s aluminum market has been struggling under the weight of the heavy energy costs associated with smelter operations for a number of years now. “Australia is one of the world’s most emissions-intensive aluminium producers,” as per the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Renewable energy sources may be the answer to saving the country’s aluminum sector.
Mine production: 1.4 million MT
Aluminum production in Norway remained flat in 2022, on par with the 1.4 million MT produced in the previous year. Norway and Iceland are the largest exporters of primary aluminum to the European Union.
Norsk Hydro (OTCQX:NHYDY,OSE:NHY), a Norwegian aluminum and renewable energy company, has a number of aluminum projects and plants in the country, as well as in Germany and Brazil. At Sunndal, Norsk Hydro operates the largest primary aluminum plant in Europe. Its pilot plant in Karmøy, Norway, uses the most climate- and energy-efficient aluminum production technology in the world, according to the company.
9. United States
Mine production: 860,000 MT
The US aluminum industry is still recovering after dropping from its 2015 level of 1.59 million MT to 741,000 MT in 2017. In 2022, the country produced 860,000 MT, down from 889,000 MT of the metal in 2021. Three companies operate six primary aluminum smelters in five states, according to the US Geological Survey, of which two smelters were operating at full capacity in 2022. Four smelters were operating at reduced capacity, with one of those placed on standby in June.
Transportation applications accounted for 35 percent of US aluminum use in 2022. Packaging and building rounded out the top three domestic uses with 23 percent and 16 percent of consumption, respectively.
Mine production: 750,000 MT
Aluminum production in Iceland totaled 750,000 MT in 2022, on par with the previous year.
Arctus Metals, in cooperation with Innovation Center Iceland, has developed a new aluminum production technology designed to eliminate CO2 emissions from the production process. The company has successfully produced aluminum with this new method, which emits oxygen rather than creating CO2 emissions.
Century Aluminum’s (NASDAQ:CENX) subsidiary Nordural Grundartangi, another aluminum producer in Iceland, signed a letter of intent in 2022 with green technology company Ocean GeoLoop to deploy the latter company’s carbon capture technology at Nordual’s Grundartangi plant, which would make it a carbon-neutral operation.
Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.