Bauxite is a naturally occurring, heterogeneous material comprised of one or more aluminum hydroxide minerals plus various mixtures of silica, iron oxide, titanium, alumina-silicates, and other impurities in trace amounts. Bauxite is an important ore of aluminum and forms by the rapid weathering of granite rocks in warm, humid climates. It is easily purified and can be converted directly into either alum or metallic aluminum. It is a soft mineral with hardness varying from 1 to 3, and specific gravity from 2 to 2.55. Bauxite is dull in appearance and may vary in color from white to brown. It usually occurs in aggregates in pea-sized lumps.
Bauxite is the only raw material used in the production of alumina on a commercial scale in the United States. Bauxite is classified according to the intended commercial application, such as abrasive, cement, chemical, metallurgical, and refractory. Of all the bauxite mined, about 95 percent is converted to alumina for the production of aluminum metal with some smaller amounts going to nonmetal uses as various forms of specialty alumina. Small amounts are used in non-metallurgical bauxite applications. Bauxite is also used to produce aluminum chemicals and is used in the steel industry.
Supply - World production of bauxite rose +3.5% yr/yr in 2006 to a new record high of 178 million metric tons. The world's largest producer of bauxite is Australia with 35% of the world's production in 2006, followed by Brazil (12%), China (12%), Guinea (9%), Jamaica (8%), and India (7%). Chinese production of bauxite has quadrupled in the past 10 years. India's bauxite production has also risen rapidly and is more than triple the amount seen 15 years ago.
Demand - U.S. consumption of bauxite in 2006 fell by -0.8% yr/yr to 12.300 million metric tons from 12.400 million metric tons in 2005. That was still well below the record high of 15.962 million metric tons seen in 1980. The alumina industry took 96% of bauxite production in 2006, or 11.800 million metric tons. According to 2004 data (the latest data available) the refractory industry usually takes about 1.4% of the U.S. bauxite supply, the abrasive industry takes about 0.2%, and the chemical industry takes the rest.
Trade - The U.S. relies on imports for almost 100% of its consumption needs. Domestic ore, which provides less than 1 percent of the U.S. requirement for bauxite, is mined by one company from surface mines in the states of Alabama and Georgia. U.S. imports of bauxite fell 1.7% yr/yr to 11,600 million metric tons in 2006, which was well below the record of 14.976 million metric tons seen in 1974. U.S. exports of bauxite in 2006 were negligible at 20,000 metric tons.