Aluminum Industry Profile
The aluminum industry impacts every community in the country, either through physical plants and facilities, recycling, heavy industry, or consumption of consumer goods. In the past decade, the aluminum industry benefitted from growth in the aerospace and consumer electronics industries and the increased lightweighting of vehicles. While demand for high-quality aluminum is rising in the United States, the cost structure–particularly the energy component–poses a barrier to increased domestic production. The United States obtains aluminum from three sources: primary metal made from ore, secondary metal produced from aluminum scrap, and imported aluminum metals.
Production and Supply
Although domestic production of primary aluminum rose to nearly 2.0 million short tons in 2011 (worth about $5.3 billion based on published market prices), it remained well below 2008 levels.1 In the fall of 2011, domestic smelters were operating at about 64% capacity.1 Secondary production of aluminum (from old scrap) totaled about 1.4 million short tons in 2011.1
Canada, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates represented about 71% of total U.S. imports in 2011.1 Exports of scrap continued to increase.
Salient Statistics—United States1
(Data in thousand metric tons of metal)
|Secondary Production (from old scrap)||1,660||1,500||1,260||1,250||1,400|
|Imports for consumption||4,020||3,710||3,680||3,610||3,670|
The production of primary aluminum relies on an electrolytic process and is electricity-intensive. As a result of technical progress and the use of recycling, the U.S. aluminum industry has significantly increased its energy efficiency, yet energy remains a key issue facing the industry today. The industry's primary energy consumption accounted for 603 trillion Btu in 2006.2
In 2010, the majority of U.S. primary aluminum production capacity was located in seven states, and smelters east of the Mississippi accounted for 71% of production.3 In 2011, the United States accounted for 4.5% of global production of primary aluminum.1
Aluminum consumption was centered in the East Central United States. Transportation accounted for an estimated 34% of domestic consumption; other major uses included packaging (27%), buildings (12%), electrical (8%), machinery (8%), consumer durables (7%), and other (4%).1
In 2010, the alumina and aluminum production and processing industry employed over 52,700 people, of which more than 29,000 worked in production.4 Mean annual wages for all occupations in the industry were almost $44,000.4 In 2011, five companies operated 10 primary aluminum smelters. While five smelters were closed the entire year, one smelter that had been closed in 2009 was reopened, and five potlines that had been closed in 2008 -2009 at four other smelters were also restarted in early 2011.1
Secondary aluminum production relies on recycled aluminum products and can require 95% less energy than primary production.5 Aluminum is 100% recyclable, and 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today.6 Recycled aluminum beverage cans constitute a major supply for the U.S. aluminum industry; in 2008, 1.56 billion pounds of cans were recycled by the industry, representing 54.2% of total beverage can shipments for the year.7 In 2011, aluminum recovered from purchased scrap totaled 3.0 million tons, of which about 54% was obtained from manufacturing and 46% was obtained from discarded aluminum products.1