It was established by Royal Charter in 1968 and began production in 1971. Initial capacity was 120,000 tonnes a year (t/y). In 1980, it celebrated producing its millionth tonne of aluminium products. Just one year later, in 1981, a third pot line was opened, taking capacity up to 170,000 t/y. Pot line 4 opened in 1992 and, together with an upgrade of line 3, pushed capacity to 450,000 t/y. Pot line 5 opened in 2005; the 1.15-kilometre line took just 77 days to commission, setting a new world record.
Today, the plant has an output of 890,000 t/y and is set to be expanded further with a sixth production line. This has been planned for several years, however, the past few years have been eventful for the company and this goes some way to explaining why this has been delayed. Most importantly, the organisation, which was previously 77 per cent owned by the government of Bahrain, 20 per cent owned by Saudi Arabias Sabic Industrial Investments Company (SIIC) and 3 per cent owned by Germany-based Breton Investments, launched an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange and the Bahraini Bourse in November 2010. Breton Investments relinquished its ownership stake, selling its shares back to the company. About 10 per cent of Alba was subsequently floated and was well received by the markets, raising $338m. Today, its shareholders include Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company, which is itself owned by the government. It owns 69.38 per cent of the company. SIIC continues to hold 20.62 per cent. Of the remaining 10 per cent, 5.27 per cent is owned by two major shareholders and 4.73 per cent is held by 2,453 minor shareholders. The company also holds 3 million treasury shares for employees as part of an incentive plan.
Prior to the listing, chief executive officer (CEO) Ahmed Saleh al-Noaimi retired after being with Alba for 35 years (as CEO since 2005). He was replaced by Laurent Schmitt, who held the role until September 2012, when it was given to long-standing Alba employee Tim Murray, who was previously the chief finance and supply officer.
Also in 2012, Alba resolved a controversial civil court case against US alumina supplier Alcoa World Alumina. First filed in the US in 2008, the case saw Alba accuse Alcoa of corrupt activities related to alumina supplies. After an investigation under the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act, a US court ordered in June 2012 that the case could proceed to the discovery phase. In October 2012, Alcoa reached a settlement with Alba worth $447m to the Bahraini company, although Alcoa did not admit any liability. The payment consisted of an $85m cash sum and long-term alumina sales agreements.
With this ongoing issue now settled, Alba is focused on its sixth pot line. In December 2012, it commissioned Bechtel Canada to produce a bankable feasibility study for the line and a new power station. The main contract award is scheduled for late 2014, but progress on the project depends on the gas allocation from the Bahrain National Oil & Gas Authority (Noga). Noga raised the price of the gas allocated to Alba in January 2012, from $1.50 a million BTUs to $2.25 a million BTUs, costing the company an extra $86.6m for the year. Despite this, Alba still enjoys much lower energy prices than many of its international competitors, which explains why the company is still doing well despite lower global aluminium costs and rising energy prices. In November, it also completed upgrades to lines 1, 2 and 3 using resistor preheating, which saves energy, reduces gas use and prolongs pot life. This new system had already been implemented on lines 4 and 5.
The majority of Albas customers are in Bahrain, with the domestic market accounting for 46 per cent of sales in 2013 (to the end of September). A further 26 per cent of its produce is sold to the wider Middle East and regional demand is growing, particularly in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Sales in the first nine months of 2013 were up 2 per cent on the same period in 2012, due to increased local demand, while exports to Asia fell significantly during this period.