Kinlochleven Visitor Centre and Library

(The Aluminium Story)

Located close to the site of the former Aluminium Smelter in Kinlochleven, the Kinlochleven Visitor Centre and Library lies on Linnhe Road to the south of the River Leven. Incorporating a local library and community information point, the centre is best known for 'The Aluminium Story', an exhibition which traces the ninety-year history of aluminium smelting in this remote corner of the West Highlands using audio-visual displays. The science of the smelting process is explained and the displays describe the grand-scale engineering of the hydro-electric scheme which makes good use of the exceptional rainfall in the area to power the plant.

The smelter was build by the British Aluminium Company in 1909 and used the electricity available from the Kinlochleven Hydro-Electric Scheme to extract the metal from alumina, itself chemically separated from bauxite ore. The smelter produced 200 tonnes of aluminium each week using 72 electrolytic cells, which each drew 40,000 amps of DC power fed at only 4.7 volts. Although the tending equipment had been updated in the 1980s, the Soderberg cell technology dated from the 1950s and gave rise to significant environmental concerns. At its closure in 2000, Kinlochleven was the oldest and smallest aluminium smelter operating anywhere in the world. Latterly it was run by the Canadian multi-national Alcan, which has become a major Scottish landowner through owning the large estates which supply water to the reservoirs for this scheme and the Lochaber Smelter at Fort William.

The centre also brings to life the people who built the plant and worked in it, together with the history of Kinlochleven, which developed as a company-town in association with the smelter and suffered greatly when it closed. The centre is part of a redevelopment plan for the village promoted by the Kinlochleven Land Development Trust.

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