Aluminium encyclopaedia

Bayer, Karl Joseph

Karl Joseph Bayer (1847-1904) was born in Austrian Silesia and received his doctorate in chemistry from Heidelberg University in 1871. He then worked as a chemical engineer in Russia. It was while he was there that he developed a process for the production of "aluminium oxide" that was superior to the methods available at the time and for which he was granted German patents in 1887 and 1892. The first patent relates to the precipitation of hydrated aluminium oxide from a solution of bauxite in concentrated caustic soda by adding aluminium hydrate while continually agitating the liquid. The second describes a method for digesting the bauxite more quickly by allowing the lye to act on the powdered bauxite at a pressure of three to four atmospheres at a temperature of about 160-172 °C while stirring continuously. Both steps are still part of the process used today, which is the one used almost exclusively for the production of the aluminium oxide used in the extraction of aluminium.

In 1893/94 Bayer travelled to Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and North America to market his invention. However, throughout his life his marketing efforts were not very successful. In 1895 he settled in Rietzdorf in the South Steiermark region of Austria, where he owned small bauxite mines and where he constructed an alumina plant as a research facility. His efforts to establish an aluminium industry in Austria to exploit bauxite deposits in Styria, Carniola and Dalmatia did not meet, however, with any governmental or private interest. When Bayer died in Rietzdorf, he was poor.