China continues to drive global market demand for seaborne bauxite as a result of stricter environmental measures and the depletion of domestic bauxite, according to the Rio Tinto Group.
The company said a month ago that it expected overall global demand for aluminum to improve in 2022, but noted that geopolitical risks remain, as well as slower growth in China.
Meanwhile, the global alumina market remains overcapacity, leading to subdued prices in early 2021.
However, severe outages at refineries in the Atlantic and China caused prices to rise later in the year, but prices fell in the fourth quarter due to ample supply in China.
Aluminum prices rose to multi-year highs in 2021, thanks to a strong recovery in global demand and extensive energy-related supply disruptions in China.
According to Rio Tinto, this led to a world market deficit. Coupled with logistical disruptions, commodity and energy cost inflation, physical markets remained tight and supported higher prices.
What is bauxite? A sedimentary rock with a relatively high aluminum content and the world’s main source of aluminum.
Rio Tinto’s bauxite production was 54.3 million tons in 2021, this is 3% lower compared to 2020, due to severe wet weather in the first quarter that affected the stability of the system throughout the year, the equipment reliability issues and excess planned shutdowns at its Pacific operations.
At the same time, the company shipped 37.6 million tonnes of bauxite to third parties in 2021, which is 4% less than the same period in 2020 due to major weather events in the first quarter causing shipment delays.
In 2021, its gross sales of bauxite products decreased 4% to $2.2 billion: this includes transportation revenue of $462 million (2020: $423 million).
On the other hand, demand for aluminum semi-finished products increased by approximately 7% in 2021, after a decline of approximately 4% in 2020. A strong recovery in global demand in end-use sectors, including packaging, transportation and construction, led the recovery.
This was despite the impact of semiconductor shortages on car production.
In 2021, demand recovery was notable in Europe and the United States, generating strong demand for value-added products for billet and rolled sheet extrusion.
Rio Tinto competes with Saudi Arabian Mining Company, Vedanta, Norsk Hydro ASA, United Company RUSAL, Aluminum Corporation of China, Hindalco Industries, South32, Alcoa Corporation, and Shandong Nanshan Aluminum Co.