Point Comfort Operations -- Overview
Alcoa Point Comfort Operations is one of nine Alcoa refineries in a global bauxite and alumina enterprise known as Alcoa World Alumina. It is Alcoa’s only U.S. refinery and one of three remaining plants of its kind in the United States.

In 1948, Alcoa started manufacturing activities in Calhoun County, Texas with the construction of the first aluminum production facility powered by natural gas. The initial plant, a three-potline aluminum smelter, was completed in 1950 and later expanded to seven potlines. An alumina refining plant started operations in 1959, and facilities producing cryolite, lime, aluminum fluoride, caustic, and chlorine were also added in the 1960s. In 1980, Alcoa discontinued aluminum production at Point Comfort Operations.

The Alumina Plant

Alcoa Point Comfort Operations is a “double digest” six-digester unit plant using the traditional Bayer process. This process dates back to 1888 and was developed by an Austrian chemist named Dr. Karl Josef Bayer. Alumina, or aluminum oxide, is produced from bauxite and is an intermediate step in the production of aluminum. The original refinery capacity was rated at 1.6 million metric tonnes per year (mtpy). In January 1997, construction was completed on a $70 million plant expansion. The expansion upgraded the plant’s alumina process technology and involved all areas of the facility. The Alumina Plant has the rated capacity to produce 2.3 million mtpy through the Bayer Process.

Our process is chemical - we separate the alumina from the other constituents of bauxite by first crushing the bauxite and then mixing it with a hot solution of caustic (sodium hydroxide). This step of the process occurs in large pressure tanks called digesters. The caustic dissolves the aluminum oxide, but the other minerals in the bauxite remain in solid form. Settling and filtration (Clarification) remove the bauxite solids -- or residue -- from the liquid alumina-caustic solution (referred to as the liquor stream). The alumina is recovered from the liquor stream by pumping the solution into huge tanks called precipitators. The solution is held in these tanks under controlled temperatures until the alumina hydrate crystallizes. Already-formed alumina crystals (hydrate) are added to the tanks to aid in this process, which takes about 22 hours. The precipitated alumina is then sized, washed, and finally dried (calcined) to remove the chemically combined water.

The majority of the alumina produced at Point Comfort is Aluminum Grade and is shipped by barge and rail to plants that produce aluminum.

Point Comfort Operations also produces a special low silica alumina. Point Comfort ships a large portion of the low silica alumina to Alcoa Rockdale Operations in Central Texas for the production of a high-purity aluminum, which is used primarily in automotive applications. Another product from the low silica stream is Wet Filter Cake, which is used in paper additives, china dinnerware, synthetic marble for sinks, and electronic packaging. The Calcination Department makes a variety of special calcined alumina products. Customer applications for these products include furnace refractory linings used by metal and glass industries, ceramics for spark plugs, and abrasives for sandpaper and grinding wheels.

Minerals

Aluminum Fluoride rated capacity: 60,000 mtpy
C-30 Hydrate rated capacity: 300,000 mtpy

Alcoa Point Comfort Operations’ involvement with minerals began in 1962 with the start-up of the Aluminum Fluoride plant. The six-kiln facility at Point Comfort is the largest of its kind in the world. Aluminum fluoride is made in two steps. First, sulfuric acid and fluorspar are heated inside a rotary kiln to make hydrogen fluoride gas. The hydrogen fluoride gas is then reacted with hydrated alumina to produce aluminum fluoride. Aluminum producers use aluminum fluoride to lower the operating temperature of the smelting pot bath. This both increases the smelting pot’s efficiency and increases the pot’s production rate.

The minerals Plant also makes C-30 Hydrate, a product used as a fire retardant and smoke suppressant filler for both carpet backing and plastics and in the production of alumina minerals whose end uses include water treatment, laundry detergent, and catalysts. The alumina hydrate used to make C-30 Hydrate is washed after precipitation in the Alumina Plant to remove the caustic and dried in the minerals area to remove the excess moisture. Although it feels dry to the touch, C-30 Hydrate retains about 35% chemically combined water.

Alcoa Point Comfort’s Chemical business became ISO 9002 certified in July 1993 and has recertified to the standards in every follow-up audit since then. ISO 9000 is an international standard for establishing, documenting, and maintaining a quality system. We are proud of the accomplishment because certification identifies Point Comfort Industrial minerals as a reliable supplier who is committed to continuous improvement of quality.

In 2002, Alcoa Point Comfort Operations attained ISO 14001 certification. ISO stands for International Standards Organization. ISO 14001 is a global Environmental standard, which establishes guidelines for the development of a sound Environmental Management System. An Environmental Management System outlines the way to run a business to reduce the impact to the environment.

Water Transportation

Completion of the Matagorda Ship Channel in 1965 linked Alcoa’s port facilities with the Gulf of Mexico. The inner channel -- from Port O’Connor to Point Comfort -- is 36 feet deep, 200 feet wide and about 22 miles long, extending across Matagorda and Lavaca Bays. A typical month sees the arrival of three or four ships carrying bauxite. The majority of Point Comfort’s bauxite comes from mines in Guinea in West Africa. It takes about 2 1/2 days to unload an average ship, which contains between 45,000 and 50,000 metric tonnes of bauxite. The Raw Materials & Marine department is also responsible for the loading of nearly 180 barges of alumina per year for shipment to customers via the Intracoastal Waterway and Mississippi River systems.

Rail Transportation

Point Comfort & Northern Railway began service on November 6, 1948 between Point Comfort and Lolita, Texas in Jackson County. This 12.7-mile stretch of track connects Alcoa Point Comfort Operations with the Union Pacific Railroad. During the original 1950 construction, PC&N brought building materials to the plant site.

Today, trains leave the plant loaded with alumina and alumina minerals for our customers throughout the U.S. Alcoa's Rockdale Operations in Central Texas receives all of its alumina shipments by rail from Point Comfort.

Alcoa’s Commitment to the Community

Throughout the years, Alcoa and its employees have contributed their time and financial support to local schools, charitable organizations, and community projects. Point Comfort Operations employees serve a wide spectrum of organization as volunteers and board members in the dozens of communities where they live.

In 2003, Alcoa Point Comfort Operations provided more than $190,000 in support of education and community services through Alcoa Foundation, United Way, and location funding.