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How do you make aluminum?

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Quick Answer

Aluminum is made from a clay-like soil called bauxite. This is a raw material found around the Earth's equator. The bauxite is mined from below ground and then washed. The cleaned bauxite then passes through a grinder. Next, the ground bauxite goes through a refining process that uses a hot mixture of caustic soda and lime to separate out alumina, or aluminum oxide, from the bauxite.

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This mixture is heated and filtered so that the alumina can be dried to a white powder. The processing of alumina into aluminum requires three raw materials: aluminum oxide, carbon and electricity. Electricity runs between a positive anode and negative cathode, which are both made of carbon. This causes the anode to react with the oxygen in the alumina, creating carbon dioxide. The resulting material from this process is liquid aluminum. The liquid aluminum is then cast, depending on the use for which that aluminum has been made.

A process called extrusion will take the aluminum and push it into an ingot and through a die to create cans, tubes and even pieces for ladders. Rolling aluminum through sheet ingots will make aluminum plates, sheets and foil. Foundry alloys will cast pieces such as wheel rims and other car parts.

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