Monday, March 7, 2016

Aluminium Manufacturing

Verna (Muir) Burglechner's husband, Franz "Frank" Burglechner, worked at the Alcoa plant in East St. Louis, Illinois, for at least 30 years. I realized had no idea how aluminum was made or what his work might have been like.

I learned the Pittsburgh Reduction Company (as Alcoa was then called) began operations in East St. Louis in 1903. It was the first specialty alumina plant in the U.S. and used the Bayer process to manufacture alumina, which is produced by refining bauxite. Once aluminum oxide, or alumina, has been created, the Hall-Heroult process is used to dissolve the alumina so that it can be made into pig aluminum ingots, which are sold to manufacturers, such as airplane makers, who use aluminum in their products. The factory was considered critical to the manufacturing effort supporting World War II.

Alcoa aluminum ingots; image courtesy of and used with permission

The East St. Louis plant no longer operates and is owned by the city. It was about 400 acres in size and was three miles east of the Mississippi river. Manufacturing occurred on the site for over 100 years. Workers used hot sodium hydroxide in a pressurized digester to separate material from the insoluble bauxite.

In 1923 research and development labs were located at the plant in an effort to more closely work with customers to produce the aluminum needed for their products.

This propoganda film produced by the Office of Production Management in 1941 explains why aluminum was so important to the war effort and includes a terrific video of how it is processed.

'Pig Aluminum Ingots,' Alcoa
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,,

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