By Ron Garbarino.
In 2006 approximately 34 million tons of primary aluminum were produced requiring about 13.5 million tons of calcined coke. Looking ahead, calcined coke demand for aluminum production will jump to 18 million tons per year (tpy) by 2011.1 Worldwide, this additional 4.5 million tpy of calcined anode coke will require an extra 5.8 million tpy of green petroleum coke (green coke).2
The definition of “anode grade” green coke has changed in the last decade. Calciners have had to deal with ever increasing green coke variability, temporary interruptions of specific coke supplies, and the loss of some key traditional coke supplies. Regional quality of calcined coke is influenced by changes in green coke quality, which are, in turn, keenly dependent on both volume and quality of crude oils refined in those regions. The key factors that are contributing to changes in green coke quality are reviewed and a perspective on the quality in the medium term is provided.
Aluminum smelters desire reliable deliveries of consistent quality calcined anode coke and, ideally, steady or declining costs. However, calcined coke costs have increased significantly in the past few years. The cost of calcined coke has risen more than 25% from the fourth quarter of 2004 to the second quarter of 2006. Calcined coke prices have since continued to rise, primarily driven by the price and availability of green coke. These increasing costs are associated with the higher values of alternative applications for green coke, higher transportation costs, and greater demand for higher quality green cokes. Historically the first two factors have not played as significant a role in determining the price of green coke for aluminum application, as they do now. There were no high-priced competing markets, and transportation costs allowed relatively easy movement of cokes to off-shore calciners.
The outlook for the supply of green coke ultimately required by the aluminum industry is reviewed in this paper. There will be sufficient green coke, and the incremental and marginal decreases in the resulting calcined coke quality will be managed with continued use of improved technology at smelters. The delivered costs of calcined coke will continue to be strongly influenced by the competing markets and other cost factors for green coke.
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