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Aluminium in the Highlands

The history of aluminium production in the Scottish Highlands is a long and illustrious one.  It is a story with much resonance for contemporary debates about economic development in remote regions and of the use of renewable energy – for British Aluminium were first attracted to the west Highlands by the area’s climate and physical geography with the potential this afforded for cheap hydro-electric power for their energy intensive industry. 

By 1907, one-third of the world’s primary aluminium output was produced in the west Highlands (BACo: 1955; Grinberg and Hachez- Leroy: 1997).  Naturally, the development of these monumental engineering schemes impacted on the landscape of the area.  Equally, to a people grown accustomed over the preceding century to migration and an impoverished existence, the growth of this industry offered the potential for employment.  Though the amount of primary aluminium produced in the Highlands is now relatively small in global terms, Alcan- Primary Metals Europe’s Lochaber Smelter still produces around 1% of Western Europe’s output of the virgin metal (Alcan: 2006; IAI: 2006). 

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