197 (10.06.18)

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1. Kamsar Jetty, Guinea

How bauxite in West Africa becomes a Coke can in Europe

Every two days, tugs at the Kamsar jetty on the coast of Guinea nudge an empty ship onto the dock, where it is loaded with bauxite from Rio Tinto's CBG mine, one of the world's largest bauxite operations, which has been co-owned by the government since it opened in the 1970s. Boats loaded here carry around 15 million tonnes of ore out of the country each year; roughly a third of that goes to Ireland, a 12-day trip, where it is unloaded on the Atlantic coast at Aughinish, the biggest alumina refinery in Europe. Ireland imports around $230m of bauxite each year, according to UN trade figures, and Aughinish, which is owned by Russian aluminium giant Rusal, has enough ore piled-up on its dock to feed the plant for nine weeks. The bauxite is refined into alumina, a white powder that is shipped to smelters, including Dunkerque in France, which has a metal oven bigger than a cathedral, guzzling half the power of a nuclear reactor, conveniently built nearby. But Dunkerque's staff say it is more like a delicatessen than a supermarket, producing highly-specialist and ultra-strong aluminium slabs, which are rolled into thin sheets. For car panels they are only 1mm thick, lowering a car's weight, boosting fuel efficiency. Drinks cans are less than one-tenth of that. On a just-in-time basis the aluminium is railed-out to customers, including Coca-Cola, Volkswagen and BMW, splaying finished metal out across Europe. The entire trade route, from Kamsar to Coke, takes roughly 130 days, but it has been threatened in recent weeks by US sanctions against Rusal, blocking shipments to Aughinish, removing a key link in the chain. “This is a global situation that is extremely fluid and continues to develop,” Ireland's business minister has said. The US Treasury says it is trying to minimise “undesired collateral consequences.”

Next: Agadez, Niger


128 days

From Kamsar to Coca-Cola, it takes roughly four months to turn bauxite in Guinea into a drinks can in Europe

5m tonnes

Every year, around 5m tonnes of bauxite is shipped from Guinea to Ireland, where it is refined into 1.9m tonnes of alumina, then smelted into 1m tonnes of aluminium


Ireland imported $230m of bauxite last year, which is turned into $2bn-$3bn of finished aluminium