Australian aluminium technology firm Alcore is planning to produce aluminium fluoride for Australia and New Zealand’s aluminium sectors, to cut the reliance on imports that mainly come from China.
Aluminium waste will be used to produce aluminium fluoride, which is an additive in the aluminium smelting process, Alcore said in a presentation outlining its aim to set up a 10,000 t/yr plant close to an existing aluminium smelter supplied by hydropower at Bell Bay in Tasmania.
Long-term output could grow to 30,000-60,000 t/yr subject to customer demand, the availability of low-cost feedstock sources and additional production locations, Alcore said. This could open up export opportunities to the global aluminium industry. Aluminium hydroxide will possibly provide feedstock for early production but bauxite and stockpiled dross at aluminium smelters may also be considered at a later stage.
Australia has four aluminium plants that produced 1.6mn t last year worth around A$4bn ($3.03bn). The global aluminium market is around 60mn t/yr. New Zealand has one aluminium plant at Tiwai Point that last year produced 335,000t, whose future has only been guaranteed after a new electricity supply deal. Alcore is initially aiming to supply around 35pc of the countries’ aluminium smelter demand for aluminium fluoride.
The global aluminium fluoride market is estimated by Alcore to be around 1.2mn t/yr worth $1.5bn, of which 50pc is produced in China for its smelters. There is no aluminium fluoride production in Australia or New Zealand.
With production costs ranging from $1,000-1,700/t, aluminium fluoride is mainly produced from aluminium hydroxide and fluorspar, with raw materials comprising 75pc of the production cost. Alcore is targeting lower costs through its use of waste feedstock. It started laboratory operations in 2019 that have confirmed production and technical processes and is now progressing engineering validation and a pilot plant ahead of commercialisation. By-product markets for aluminium production include the cathodes of lithium-iron batteries, industrial chemicals and fluorochemicals.