Abu Dhabi’s industrial diversification strategy has taken a leap forward as new contract awards herald significant progress on two ambitious developments in the emirate’s petrochemicals and metals sectors.

Economic diversification is a key plank of the Abu Dhabi Plan 2030, the emirate’s economic masterplan, which aims to reduce the reliance on crude oil export revenues and provide jobs for its fast-growing local population.

Abu Dhabi has resurrected plans to build its long-delayed Tacaamol chemicals megaproject in Ruwais with the award of the project’s front-end engineering and design (feed) contract. Abu Dhabi National Chemicals Company’s (Chemaweyaat) megaproject has suffered several setbacks since its inception five years ago, but now appears to be going ahead as the first phase – an aromatics complex – moves into the design phase.

The feed work was awarded to US engineering group CH2M Hill, which won the contract ahead of several other international engineering companies after it was tendered in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to industry sources. CH2M Hill will design an aromatics complex capable of converting 3 million tonnes a year (t/y) of heavy and medium naphtha supplied from Abu Dhabi Oil Refining Company’s (Takreer) refinery in Ruwais.

The project will be located at the Madeenat Chemaweyaat al-Gharbia site, east of the Ruwais refining and petrochemicals complex, along with supporting infrastructure including a dedicated export tank farm, jetty and loading births. It will use naphtha from the Ruwais refinery to produce benzene, paraxylene and mixed xylenes.

Last year, Chemaweyaat appointed the US’ Foster Wheeler as the project management consultant (PMC) for the feed phase of the scheme.

The Tacaamol project, which was initially set to be completed by 2014, has hit several hurdles since its conception. The aromatics complex was planned as part of a larger $11bn complex including polyolefins, polystyrene, polycarbonate plants and several other plants.

US/Finnish group Neste Jacobs signed a long-term frame agreement to provide the feed work on the project in May 2009, which was never completed. Meanwhile Australian engineering group WorleyParsons, which was initially providing consultancy work, also cut ties with the project.

Chemaweyaat is a 100 per cent state-owned company with ownership split between International Petroleum Investment Company (Ipic), Abu Dhabi Investment Council and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc).

Meanwhile, UAE-based Mubadala and Dubai Aluminium (Dubal) have awarded three contracts on a feasibility study to build an alumina refinery in Abu Dhabi after completing preliminary studies on the project.

A metals project has been planned close to the Emirates Aluminium Smelter (Emal) in Taweelah for some years, but the largest projects – the alumina refinery and rolling mill – have remained at an early stage, with no contract awards revealed until now.

A joint venture of US-based Bechtel and the Petrofac Emirates – a local joint venture of UK-based Petrofac – were appointed to carry out the feasibility study on the alumina refinery.

In addition, two agreements have been signed to secure technologies to support the study. A joint venture of Canada’s Hatch Associates and Finnish minerals processing group Outotec were awarded one contract, while Canadian aluminium firm Rio Tinto Alcan was selected for its refinery technology.

The proposed refinery will use bauxite to extract alumina (aluminium oxide), which is then used as a raw material to produce primary aluminium in a smelter.

The project would be located near Emal in the Khalifa Industrial Zone of Abu Dhabi (Kizad), located midway between the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Emal smelter has a capacity of 750,000 t/y and is currently undergoing a phase two expansion that would double capacity, for which it will require additional supplies of raw materials to raise production.

A resurgence of these key petrochemicals and metals projects in Abu Dhabi will add significantly to the emirate’s project pipeline. The aromatics complex and smelter are only single phases of much larger developments that should become cornerstones of the emirate’s industrial diversification strategy into the next decade.