The Qatalum smelter in Qatar is the largest, highest output aluminum smelter in the world. With a mind-boggling 704 individual smelting pots, it produces upwards of 585,000 tons of aluminum each year. That's a lot of Coke cans.

The Qatalum smelter was built in 2009 by the ABB company out of Auburn Hills, Michigan. It's not just the biggest, but it's also the most efficient. Smelters require high power converters called rectiformers. Rectiformers convert the incoming AC current (from the grid or an on-site power plant) into the DC current used in an electrolytic process to keep the the aluminum in the pots molten.


Most rectiformers can only produce 1200 volts of direct current (DC). But the rectiformers at Qatalum generally operate at 1750 volts—and they can go as high as 2000. A smelter this size would normally need six rectiformers, but these ABB-made machines cut the count to five, resulting in an 18 percent increase in energy efficiency. Backup systems keep the rectifiers operating during outages. This is critically important—if a power converter were to fail, the aluminum inside the pots would solidify, likely causing over $100 million in damages.

Saving 18 percent is a major reduction in a plant that could normally use as much power in a year as 300,000 homes. It's amazing that the most productive aluminum plant in the world is also one of the most energy-efficient and environmentally sound. Of course, could it ever be considered environmentally sound to use that much power to make that much metal? Hey, aluminum recycles!

(Image credit: Qatalum Aluminium)