Stricter environmental standards and greater pressure on the black market led to a significant jump in bauxite imports to the People’s Republic of China last year, shrinking domestic supply while alumina refining rose.
Per customs data released earlier this week, last year saw 85.61 million metric tons of bauxite ore reach its shores, a rise of 24.5 percent from 2017’s total. Through October the domestic production of bauxite ore rose by a paltry 1.8 percent on the year, with imported bauxite ore accounting for 45 percent of the country’s total bauxite supply.
SMM estimates that imported bauxite ore averaged a price of US$54/metric ton last year, a rise of US$3/per metric ton over 2017 prices. The rise in prices evidently had little effect upon demand, as the jump in imports suggests an unabating thirst for overseas bauxite ore.
Last year saw Chinese refiners produce 70.48 million metric tons of alumina, up by 3.01 percent on 2017’s production levels.
Importation of bauxite ore from abroad presented a problem for Chinese refineries, however. Refining equipment in China is generally specifically tailored to handling domestic bauxite ores, but a rise in demand for alumina led to a run on such domestic feedstock, necessitating the importation of overseas ore of varying quality. A drop in quality led to a rise in ore usage, which clamped down on supplies even more over the course of the year.
However, at least two firms have made efforts at adapting to the new reality. Per SMM, Yunnan Aluminium and State Power Investment Corporation modified certain of its lines to handle a mix of local and overseas bauxite ores, better positioning them for what may be the new normal for bauxite in China.
SMM notes that, in 2016, bauxite ore reserves in China accounted for 17 percent of the global total, and alumina production in the Middle Kingdom accounted for fully half of all alumina refined on Earth.