It has long been assumed that global aluminium industry normally goes through a seven-year itch during its growth cycle intervened by 2-3 years of depression. The present depression in the market which started about 2 years after the ‘not so great’ global financial crisis of 2008-09, seems to have overstayed its ‘unwelcome’. Whatever significant capacity growth that has been seen in the industry over the last 4-5 years, has come from the Middle East and China. In rest of the world, either loss making capacity has been shut down or moth-balled. A good many number of projects have been also put on hold. The global primary aluminium capacity distribution pattern has slowly but steadily shifted to the predominance of the China- India- Middle East axis. Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo and Vietnam are the other emerging stars on the horizon. The African continent, despite showing very high potential on the promises of large unexplored areas of rich mineral regions, has remained on the threshold for long held back by awfully inadequate infrastructure.
A new phenomenon of socio-political resistance to bauxite mining seems to be gaining strength in all bauxite bearing nations across all the continents. Consequently, investors for nearly all the major green field alumina refinery projects along with those for brown field expansion have been forced to re-think and rework their growth strategies. Whether it is Australasia or Africa or Latin America the resistance is being orchestrated labelling bauxite mining as a threat to soil eruption, greening of the earth and religious sentiments, life style and livelihood pattern of ethnic dwellers etc. All this is not only hurting the input material supply security of the global industry but also that of supply of Aluminium to its downstream industries.
Where is the global aluminium industry heading to in the face of these growing phenomena of input insecurity while the global economy has already started showing signs of definite recovery? Are these misgivings about Bauxite mining factual or imaginary and politicised propaganda? Can the industry continue functioning under the emerging scenario? Who would ‘bell the cat’ to come out of this ‘log jam’- the industry with publication of a ‘white paper’ of statement of fact or the Government of the land with a clear statement of intent? Is it the time for the Bauxite Mining and Alumina refining industry to come out with new technologies to address the environment issues that it is accused of violating? Is it the time to find innovative ways of waste management, energy conservation and addressing the social concern of better land utilisation factor?
It would be both interesting and useful, if industry professionals come up with constructive views on the above, and more, to enable attracting greater public confidence on the intents and purpose of the industry. Steady and healthy growth rate for any industry is after all not a luxury but a necessity for survival. And for that, the prime requisite is input security which seems to be fading away from the global bauxite- Alumina and Primary Aluminium industry.
By: Mr. B S Pani, ‘Industrial Consultant” -<firstname.lastname@example.org>
The author is a metallurgist, an industry veteran of 40+ years and an independent Industrial Consultant operating from Bhubaneswar :India.