More than 100 years of alumina expertise

So many innovations and inspiring moments have made Almatis what it is today. This timeline summarizes the key moments and milestones that have shaped our past.

More than 100 years of alumina expertise - Please click to enlarge
(Please click to enlarge)

1910 – The Start of the Alumina Chemicals Business

It was 100 years ago in 1910 that the Specialty Alumina business began with the first sale of alumina for a non-metals application by Alcoa, the predecessor of Almatis. Only 24 years after the aluminum industry was founded, this  sale of a calcined alumina product, used by the customer to make fused alumina abrasives, marked the birth of a new industry sector – the specialty alumina business – and launched Alcoa's alumina chemicals trade... 

One hundred years later, the modern alumina chemicals industry has become a global business, producing and selling a wide variety of products with a broad range of properties and applications that are incorporated into items used daily by people all over the world. Alumina chemicals are a thriving business with a bright future fueled by many growth opportunities from the ongoing research and development of new products and applications.

We at Almatis are very proud that our company can trace back to the first product development in this industry and, as a result, we can claim 100 years of technical alumina expertise. Our 10 decades of intensive R&D and application work in conjunction with our customers has generated numerous new specialty alumina products and processes for diverse industries and end uses.

History of the Specialty Alumina Business

Hall Heroult
Charles Martin Hall/ Paul Heroult

Let's step back 10 decades and briefly outline the significant historical occurrences that contributed to the development and growth of our premium alumina business.

The worldwide alumina chemicals industry had its beginnings in the modern aluminum industry founded in 1886 by Charles Martin Hall in the United States and Paul Heroult in France.

Bayer
Dr. Karl Joseph Bayer

The promising demand for large quantities of pure alumina to produce aluminum metal inspired Dr. Karl Joseph Bayer to develop a low-cost method for extracting alumina from bauxite. The 1887 invention of the Bayer process, the principal industrial means of refining bauxite to produce high-purity alumina at relatively low costs, can be seen as the most significant milestone in the history of our premium alumina business.

The first commercial Specialty Alumina plant in the U.S. began operations by the Pittsburgh Reduction Company (as Alcoa was then called) in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1903. With a reliable, cost-effective source of alumina available in large volumes, potential customers and operators of the Bayer plants in Europe and the U.S. became interested in and began working cooperatively on potential applications for alumina beyond the aluminum industry. 
 
 Plant Around
Plant around 1905

Following the establishment in 1918 of the Aluminum Company of America Laboratories for formal research and development, a branch of the Labs was set up in 1923 at the East St. Louis plant to conduct R&D on alumina applications and purification processes. (This work was later moved to the renamed Alcoa Technical Center outside of Pittsburgh in the mid-1970s.) A prime reason for the success of these alumina R&D endeavors was the close relationships established with customers for developing and commercializing new products and applications.

Family
Family day in a lab in St. Louis Plant

„Alcoa/ Almatis engineers have always worked in customer labs, R&D centers and plants,“ explains Rock Marra (VP Process Technology), „and customers have likewise been present in Alcoa facilities. From 1910 on, we have worked hand-in-hand with our customers, always exchanging process technology and innovative product ideas. It must have been amazing to experience the beginning of our business. We salute these early innovators that worked so creatively to bring new solutions to industrial challenges.“

Plant Front
Plant Front around 1910

From Above
and from above in 1940

Since becoming an independent business, Almatis has further expanded customer outreach to form relationships with the customers of our customers, e.g. the steel industry, to even better understand the market dynamics and to develop value-adding solutions that reach all the way to the end user. From that single calcined alumina sale in 1910, Almatis has become a global producer of premium alumina, with 9 plants on 3 continents and a widely diverse product portfolio serving markets from refractories and ceramics to polishing and more.

Tabular Alumina and Almatis Product Lines

The development of Tabular Alumina is a standout achievement of Almatis and deserves a paragraph of its own. No other product has been as influential to our success. For more than 70 years tabular alumina has been widely used in high performance refractory materials for many applications in steel, foundries, petrochemicals and ceramics. The global tabular alumina market is still growing – exhibiting a remarkably long product life!

The first tabular alumina was produced by Thomas S. Curtis in 1934 under Alcoa contract. The successful development and optimization of the Alcoa tabular alumina product and process required extensive R&D and improvement programs as well as modification work during the years from 1935 to 1956. Process engineering modifications were incorporated with each new plant design.

Aluminumoxide
Aluminumoxide

New developments such as reactive aluminas were shared with customers, e.g. the ceramic industry, as they occurred to ensure further enhancements of the process and applications. The technology transfer of reactive aluminas from ceramic into refractory applications has enabled milestone improvements and significant growth in that product line.

Cement completes the Almatis product portfolio, especially for monolithic refractory applications, and has been a focus of R&D work in the past years.

Since 1990 Almatis has ramped up the commitment to innovation and introduced these product lines to the market: