|| Written by Kevin H. Touchette
The aluminum industry is an important manufacturing sector in Canada. It has ten primary aluminum plants, one in British Columbia and nine in Quebec. With nearly 6% of world production, Canada ranks fourth in the world after China, the Middle East and Russia.
It started in Canada in 1901 and since then, it experienced a dazzling progression. Its history is intimately linked to the one of certain regions. The Centre-du-Québec, the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and the Côte-Nord in Quebec, and the Kitimat region of British Columbia owe much of their rapid social and economic development to the construction of aluminum smelters.
REGIONAL ECONOMIC ENGINE
Quebec’s global reputation for aluminum relies on the presence of world-class primary producers Alcoa, Rio Tinto and Alouette. Their eight aluminum smelters in Quebec produce 2.9 million tonnes of primary aluminum, representing 60% of North American capacity.
These three producers concentrate their activities in the regions, particularly in the Côte-Nord. Thousands of jobs are created and these companies provide important business opportunities for the hundreds of companies that follow in their wake, both upstream (suppliers) and downstream (processing).
ALUMINUM, AN ECOLOGICAL METAL
Studies of the life cycle of aluminum confirm that the industry has made tremendous progress in terms of energy efficiency and CO2 reduction, not to mention the almost infinite possibilities of recycling this metal.
This material is the selected choice of the contractors who are concerned with environment and sustainable development. Its lightness combined with its robustness improve the energy efficiency of the rolling stock, while its longevity reduces the total cost of ownership of the infrastructures that integrate it. Used aluminum is not a waste, it is a raw material, a wealth to exploit.
The invention of the aluminum alumina electrolysis process by Hall and Héroult dates back to 1886. In Canada, aluminum is one hundred years old and it still has interesting properties for several fields of application:
- Resistance to corrosion in several media
- Lightweight (lighter than glass and steel)
- Excellent thermal and electrical conductivity
- Sustainability and flexibility
- Ease of recycling and affordability
These characteristics make it a metal whose use is bound to increase, a material whose growth potential is considerable. Quebec’s supply of aluminum processing services meets all the needs of manufacturing companies that want to integrate gray metal into their products or manufacturing processes.
Aluminum is available in abundance in Quebec; thanks to the eight aluminum smelters and numerous recyclers offering the full range of alloys. Then, hundreds of transformers shape the metal to suit the needs of both managers and customers. Forming processes such as extrusion, forging or casting, form the metal according to the desired shape. The processed aluminum can then be machined, precisely cut and folded in all shapes. It is also possible to treat its surface and assemble several parts to create structures of all dimensions.
A FUNCTION IN EVERY AREA
Since the early 1960s, global aluminum production has increased by one million tons every twenty months, confirming the integration of this metal into our lifestyle. Indeed, aluminum has had a place for a long time in the field of packaging products, as it is proved by the regular use of soft drinks or beers cans, plates or even the famous aluminum foil. The construction industry also uses many alloys of this metal, whether for exterior cladding or for structures.
Because of its lightness and durability, aluminum is also widely used in the transportation industry, both land and sea. In fact, wherever its characteristics will be interesting properties, aluminum will continue to make its place. For example, the aerospace world already uses special alloys. In addition, in electricity and electronics, the conductivity properties of aluminum are very much appreciated.
MAJOR INDUSTRY ACTORS
Rio Tinto owns, in Canada, six primary aluminum plants in Quebec and British Columbia, as well as an alumina plant in Quebec and a coking plant in Alberta. Rio Tinto also owns 40% of the interests of the Alouette aluminum smelter in Sept-Îles and 25% of the Bécancour aluminum smelter (Alcoa), both located in Quebec. The world headquarters is located in Montreal.
In Canada, in addition to the production of primary aluminum from Baie-Comeau, Deschambault and Bécancour (ABI) smelters, Alcoa operates processing plants that serve the aerospace, automotive and construction. Its establishments and factories are mainly located in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. The company employs more than 3,000 people.
Aluminerie Alouette, with some 1,000 employees, produces 600,000 metric tonnes annually at its plant in Sept-Îles, Quebec, making it the largest plant in the Americas. Thanks to its innovative practices, including the implementation of the AP40LE technology, Aluminerie Alouette is an assuredly modern and forward-looking factory. As a company committed to sustainable development, Aluminerie Alouette maintains high standards of health, safety and the environment in order to be recognized as an employer and a responsible corporate citizen.
- Quebec has 9 aluminum smelters with a production capacity of 2.8 million tons of aluminum as of 2015.
- Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of primary aluminum, and nearly 90% of Canadian aluminum is produced in Quebec.
- The aluminum industry generates almost 10,000 direct jobs in primary aluminum production in Quebec and 20,000 other jobs related to the sector.
- The expertise of equipment manufacturers and specialized suppliers, including Quebec engineering firms, is recognized worldwide.
- 2/3 of Quebec’s primary aluminum production comes from the Côte-Nord and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean regions.
- Several world-class public and private research centers are present in Quebec.
- Aluminum is a global industry and aluminum products are at the heart of significant international trades.
Canada’s aluminum smelters face challenges and increase international competition in primary aluminum production and processing. In order to remain leaders in this industry, Canadian and Quebec companies have undertaken, over the past few years, to achieve operational excellence through major investments in the most efficient technologies and the application of the best Manufacturing practices in the world, such as LEAN Manufacturing.
AluQuébec – Aluminium Cluster
Aluminium Association of Canada
Ministère de l’Économie, de la Science et de l’Innovation (MESI) – Québec
Stratégie Québécoise de Développement de l’Aluminium (SQDA) 2015-2025