How Much Aluminum Is Left In The World, Will We Run Out, & What Happens If We Do?

In this guide, we discuss the world’s aluminum resources and reserves.

We outline how much we might have left, whether we might run out, when we might run out, what might happen if we do, and more.

We also discuss bauxite ore resources (a raw material used to make aluminum), and alumina too.

 

Summary – The World’s Aluminum Resources

Uses For Aluminum Across Society, & Why It’s Important

We list some of the main uses for aluminum in society, including it’s use as a both a metal and a compound

 

How Much Aluminum Is Left In The World?

Some estimates indicate that roughly 75% of aluminum ever produced is still in use

However, bauxite ore is the raw material used to produce alumina, which is then used to produce aluminum metal, so, the remaining resources for bauxite ore are important too

 

World Aluminum Production

In 2021, roughly 68 million metric tons of aluminum was produced from smelters worldwide

 

Which Country Produces The Most Aluminum?

China currently produces the largest amount of aluminum at smelters

 

Global Aluminum Demand

Global aluminum demand in 2020 was 86.2Mt

 

Will We Run Out Of Aluminum?

One report indicates that over the long term, aluminum might be able to be produced from other resources, other than bauxite, almost without being exhausted

So, it appears unlikely we run out of aluminum anytime soon

 

When Will We Run Out Of Aluminum? – How Many Years Of Supply Are Left?

One report indicates there might be 80 years of supply left, but it’s not clear the assumptions and factors this estimate is based on

Even if bauxite resources start becoming more scarce from a supply point of view, some reports indicate that other resources might provide the opportunity to continue to produce aluminum into the long term future

 

What Happens If We Run Out Of Aluminum?

As any resource starts to be depleted, factors like availability of that resource, as well as price and affordability can be impacted

 

Managing Aluminum More Sustainably 

In the guide below, we outline how aluminum might be managed more sustainably as a material

 

Recycling Aluminum

Secondary production of aluminum can take place by using old and new aluminum scrap

Aluminum is one of the most recycled materials in the world in some countries, with aluminum cans specifically being a highly recycled item

 

Substitutes For Aluminum

There’s several substitute materials for aluminum across a range of applications

 

Aluminum vs Alumina vs Bauxite – The Difference

There’s a difference between aluminum, alumina (aluminum oxide), and bauxite, which we outline in the guide below

 

How Much Bauxite Is Left In The World? – Resources & Reserves

Total world bauxite resources appear to be larger than total world reserves at this point in time

 

Which Country Has The Largest Bauxite Reserves?

Guinea currently has the largest bauxite reserves

 

Total Bauxite Production

One report indicates that world bauxite production from mines in 2021 was 390,000 thousand metric dry tons

 

Country That Produces The Most Bauxite

Australia currently produces the most bauxite

 

Will We Run Out Of Bauxite?

One report indicates some countries might run out of bauxite resources in the long term, but, aluminum has essentially inexhaustable resources to be produced from (other than bauxite)

 

When Will We Run Out Of Bauxite? – How Many Years Worth Of Bauxite Are Left?

Some reports indicate about 100 years of commercially viable bauxite is left, but, this is an estimate only, and may not be considered definitive.

 

What Happens If We Run Out Of Bauxite?

Apart from availability and price potentially being impacted, aluminum producers may start moving to other resources to produce aluminum is bauxite is in lower supply

 

Substitutes For Bauxite

There might be several potential substitutes for bauxite to make alumina, although, the economic feasibility of these sources, such as clay, might be in question

 

Total World Alumina Production

World alumina production from refineries in 2021 was 140,000 thousand metric dry tons

 

Which Country Produces The Most Alumina?

China currently produces the most alumina

 

What Is Aluminum Used For Across Society, & Why Is Aluminum Important?

Aluminum can be used as a metal, or as a compound.

 

Uses For Aluminum As A Metal

wikipedia.org notes that aluminum metal is commonly alloyed to improve it’s mechanical properties, with ‘…  copper, zinc, magnesium, manganese, and silicon’ being some of the main alloying agents

 

Some of the main uses for aluminum metals across society are:

Transport – for vehicles

Packaging – for aluminum cans, as one example

Building & Construction – for window and door frames, as one example

Electricity – for wiring in power lines, and transformers

Household Items

Machinery & Equipment

Computer & Laptop Casings

Precision Tubing

 

Some of the traits that make aluminum suitable as a metal or metal alloy across different uses, are that it’s lightweight, reasonably strong, non-toxic, resistant to corrosion, malleable and flexible, and has thermal conductivity

 

Uses For Aluminum As A Compound

wikipedia.org lists some of the different aluminum compounds, and their different uses.

A few examples of aluminum compounds are aluminum acetate, aluminum phosphate, aluminum hydroxide, and there are others too.

 

What Aluminum Is Commonly Used For In The US

usgs.gov indicates that ‘Transportation applications accounted for 35% of domestic consumption [in 2020] … [and] the remainder was used in packaging, 23%; building, 16%; electrical, 9%; consumer durables, 7%; machinery, 7%; and other, 3%’

 

How Much Aluminum Is Left In The World?

It’s difficult to say how much aluminum metal is left in circulation.

One way to estimate might be to add up all primary aluminum production since aluminum started being produced, and consider that some reports, such as the one from aluminum.org, indicate that ‘… nearly 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today’.

So, 75% of all aluminum ever produced, might be a rough estimate of how much aluminum metal exists in circulation in the world.

Apart from calculating how much aluminum metal is left, estimates on the amount of bauxite pre left to produce new metal might also be important.

 

World Aluminum Production & Capacity

Primary smelting production is the main number of importance for aluminum production

However, it’s worth noting that secondary production of aluminum (from old scrap for example) also exists, in addition to primary production

 

[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that in 2021, world aluminum smelter production was 68,000 thousand metric tons i.e. 68 million metric tons, and world aluminum year end capacity was 77,000 thousand metric tons] (usgs.gov)

 

Countries That Produce The Most Aluminum

China is the largest producer of aluminum from smelters, with India in second and Russia in third

 

From usgs.gov:

[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that in 2021, China had the largest smelter production of aluminum at 39,000 thousand metric tons]

[India was in second at 3,900, and Russia in third at 3,700]

 

World Annual Aluminum Consumption & Demand

From aluminumtoday.com:

[Global aluminum demand in 2020 was 86.2Mt]

[However, some reports indicate that] global aluminium demand will increase by almost 40 per cent by 2030 and that the aluminium sector will need to produce an additional 33.3 Mt to meet demand growth in all industrial sectors … to 119.5 Mt …

 

Are We Running Out Of Aluminum, & Will We Run Out Of Aluminum?

It doesn’t appear as though we will run out of aluminum in the short term

Whether we will run out of aluminum in the medium to long term might depend on factors including, but not limited to:

– Annual production

– Annual consumption/demand

– The recycling rate of aluminum, and the rate at which old and new scrap can be recycled and re-used

– Remaining bauxite resources and reserves

– Remaining resources and reserves of substitutes for bauxite to make alumina and aluminum (and how economically feasible they are)

 

Why We May Not Run Out Of Mined Resources

In this guide, we outline several reasons why we may not run out of some mined resources 

 

When Will We Run Out Of Aluminum? … How Many Years Worth Of Aluminum Are Left?

Determining a year where we will ‘run out’ of aluminum might be an estimation exercise only, and have no definitive answer.

One source indicated it could ‘run out’ in 80 years from 2014, however, the assumptions and variables that were considered in that estimate weren’t immediately presented.

When we will run out of aluminum depends on several factors and variables – some of which we listed in the section above.

 

From bbc.com: ‘… aluminum might run dry in about 80 years’

 

What Happens If We Run Out Of Aluminum?

Running out of any resource may impact things such as:

– The availability of that resource for the key things we use it for across society.

 

– The price of that resource as it becomes more scarce, and consequently, the affordability of the things we use that resource for 

The price of resources increasing as reserves are depleted is something we mentioned in our guide about why we may not run out of mined resources anytime soon.

 

Aluminum Shortages

The scope of this guide does not include an economic analysis of aluminum shortages.

However, we have explained resource shortages & supply deficits, and some of the factors that may contribute to them in this guide

 

Is Aluminum Renewable?

Technically it’s not, as bauxite ore is a finite raw material.

However, aluminum is highly recyclable, so, it may be a more circular material than some other materials.

 

Managing Aluminum More Sustainably

Aluminum as a material can be used more sustainably by:

– Reducing consumption and demand for aluminum, or using it more efficiently

– Recycling and re-using new and old aluminum scrap

– Substituting aluminum with other materials

 

Some of these options might place less of a burden on new aluminum production in the future.

 

Recycling Aluminum

Recycling Aluminum As A Secondary Form Of Production

usgs.gov indicates that apart from primary production of aluminum, there’s also secondary production of aluminum from new and old scrap

 

Global Recycling Of Aluminum 

Steel, aluminum and copper may be three of the most recycled metals in several countries, with aluminum cans in particular being able to be recycled at a high rate

 

Recycling Aluminum In The US

usgs.gov indicates that ‘In 2021, aluminum recovered from purchased scrap in the United States was about 3.2 million tons, of which about 53% came from new (manufacturing) scrap and 47% from old scrap (discarded aluminum products). Aluminum recovered from old scrap was equivalent to about 30% of apparent consumption.’

 

Substitutes For Aluminum

usgs.gov outlines multiple substitute materials for aluminum across different applications

 

Aluminum vs Alumina vs Bauxite – What’s The Difference?

Aluminum, alumina, and bauxite ore are all used for a number of different uses

However, in the context of producing aluminum metal …

Aluminum metal can be produced from different sources

But, bauxite ore is the main raw material used to produce alumina (another phrase for the chemical compound aluminum oxide), which is then used to produce aluminum metal

 

From ga.gov.au: Aluminium is smelted from alumina which is refined from bauxite ore.

 

[Although there are] several minerals [from which] aluminum can be obtained … the most common raw material is bauxite (aluminumleader.com)

 

% Of Bauxite & Alumina Used To Make Aluminum – Worldwide

More than 90% of the world’s bauxite production is used to make alumina … (ga.gov.au)

 

According to wikipedia.org: ‘Over 90% of the aluminium oxide [i.e. alumina] … produced is consumed for the production of aluminium’

 

% Of Bauxite & Alumina Used To Make Aluminum – In The US

From usgs.gov:

Bauxite is the only raw material used in the production of alumina on a commercial scale in the United States 

[In 2021 in the US] About 70% of … bauxite [consumed] was refined by the Bayer process for alumina or aluminum hydroxide

[In 2021 in the US] About 55% of the alumina produced went to primary aluminum smelters 

 

How Much Bauxite & Alumina Are Required To Produce Aluminum

As a general rule, 4 tons of dried bauxite is required to produce 2 tons of alumina, which, in turn, produces 1 ton of aluminum (usgs.gov)

 

How Much Bauxite Is Left In The World? – Resources, & Reserves

Total world bauxite resources appear to be larger than total world reserves at this point in time

Additionally, Africa seems to have some of the most bauxite resources

 

Resources

From usgs.gov:

[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that] Global resources of bauxite are estimated to be between 55 billion and 75 billion tons …

[Total bauxite resources are] distributed in Africa (32%), Oceania (23%), South America and the Caribbean (21%), Asia (18%), and elsewhere (6%).

 

Reserves

[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that world bauxite reserves are 32,000,000 thousand metric dry tons] (usgs.gov)

 

Countries With The Largest Bauxite Reserves

Guinea currently has the largest bauxite reserves, following by Vietnam and then Australia

 

From usgs.gov:

[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that Guinea has the largest bauxite reserves at 7,400,000 thousand metric dry tons] 

[Vietnam was in second at 5,800,000, and Australia third at 5,300,000]

 

Total Global Bauxite Production

[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that world bauxite production from mines in 2021 was 390,000 thousand metric dry tons. The US’ bauxite production was withheld.] (usgs.gov)

 

Countries That Produce The Most Bauxite

Australia currently produces the most Bauxite, followed by China and Guinea equally in second position

 

From usgs.gov:

[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that the country that produced the most bauxite from mines in 2021 was Australia at 110,000 thousand metric dry tons]

[Second and third respectively were China at 86,000, and Guinea at 86,000]

[The US’ bauxite production was withheld.] 

 

Will We Run Out Of Bauxite?

In the long term bauxite resources could be an issue in terms of supply in some countries, but, one report indicates that aluminum might be able to be produced from other resources almost without being exhausted.

One indicator to pay attention to might be the world annual bauxite reserves graph.

If reserves are stable or increasing over a multi year period, this might be a sign bauxite is available for supply to the economy.

If reserves are trending down, this might be a sign bauxite is is less available for supply to the economy.

There are other factors that can impact resources and supplies of bauxite into the future though. We list some of them in this guide.

 

Bauxite Supplies For United States, & The World

Domestic [US] resources of bauxite are inadequate to meet long-term U.S. demand, but the United States and most other major aluminum-producing countries have essentially inexhaustible subeconomic resources of aluminum in materials other than bauxite (usgs.gov)

 

When Will We Run Out Of Bauxite? – How Many Years Of Bauxite Are Left?

Some reports indicate about 100 years of commercially viable bauxite is left, but, this is an estimate only, and may not be considered definitive.

 

[Assuming] 28 billion tonnes [of bauxite is left to extract and use …] at 260 million tonnes a year, the world will run out of commercially viable bauxite reserves in about 100 years [from 2019] (sciencedirect.com)

 

What Happens If We Run Out Of Bauxite?

Apart from availability and price potentially being impacted, aluminum producers may move to other resources to start producing aluminum

 

Substitutes For Bauxite

usgs.gov lists some potential substitutes from bauxite across a range of applications

For alumina, clay may a source for alumina, however it may not be economically competitive

They also list other potential alumina sources

 

Total Alumina Production

[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that world alumina production from refineries in 2021 was 140,000 thousand metric dry tons] (usgs.gov)

 

Countries That Produce The Most Alumina

China currently produces the most alumina, followed by Australia and then Brazil

 

From usgs.gov:

[The 2022 USGS Mineral Commodities Summary Report indicates that the country that produced the most alumina from refineries in 2021 was China at 74,000 thousand metric dry tons].

[Australia was second at 21,000, and Brazil third at 11,000]

 

 

Sources

1. https://www.aluminiumleader.com/production/how_aluminium_is_produced/

2. https://www.ga.gov.au/education/classroom-resources/minerals-energy/australian-mineral-facts/aluminium

3. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/national-minerals-information-center/mineral-commodity-summaries (accessing the USGS ‘Mineral Commodities Summary Report’)

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium

5. https://www.aluminum.org/Recycling

6. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20140314-the-worlds-scarcest-material

7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium_oxide

8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/bauxite

9. https://aluminiumtoday.com/news/report-reveals-global-aluminium-demand-to-reach-new-highs-after-covid

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