Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) will make a decision on whether to proceed with a planned $1-2bn expansion of its Bahrain smelter by the beginning of 2011, Laurent Schmitt, the company’s chief executive officer, tells MEED.

Schmitt says that the addition of a sixth potline at the facility would increase production from the current level of around 870,000 tonnes-a-year (t/y) to 1.2 million-t/y.

“The feasibility study will be completed in the second half of this year and the decision on potline six will be made in early 2011,” Schmitt says. “The budget has not been set yet, but I imagine it will be between $1-2bn with 2014 as the start-up date. If it goes ahead, it will be a significant increase in capacity,” he adds.

Schmitt allayed fears the rumours circulating in the aluminium industry about Alba not being able to secure the gas feedstock required to facilitate the expansion.  

“I am not so worried about the gas allocation. We have already had a few discussions and they have been positive. I think the gas will not be a problem,” Schmitt says.  

The Alba chief also stresses that the two recent new smelters in the region – Qatar Aluminium (Qatalum) in Qatar and Emirates Aluminium (Emal) in Abu Dhabi – will not have any impact on his company’s business.  

`We don’t see the new smelters coming on stream as a threat. It is very good for the different countries in the Gulf to take advantage of the cheap energy and build their industry,” Schmitt says.

“The growth rate for primary aluminium is 5 per cent a year, which is around 2 million tonnes. That is the same as three new smelters of a similar size to Qatalum or Emal. There is space for expansion and it won’t impact on our business at all. It is not a threat,” he adds.     

Established in 1971, Alba is the oldest aluminium smelter in the Middle East region and is owned by the government of Bahrain who has a 78.5 per cent stake and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic), which holds the remaining 21.5 per cent.