Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Maaden) has received four bids for the retendered $1bn contract to build a 1.6-million-tonne-a-year alumina refinery.

Firms meeting the 15 December bid deadline include the US’ Fluor Corporation with Australia’s WorleyParsons; France’s Technip; the US’ Bechtel; and Canada’s SNC Lavalin with Canada’s Hatch, says one executive source close to the bidding process.

An award is expected in the first quarter of 2010 and work is expected to last for two and a half years.

In late 2008, Maaden originally awarded the engineering, procurement, construction and management contract to Fluor.

Maaden decided to retender the deal in October this year, however, after Rio Tinto Alcan withdrew as its potential technology partner in December 2008.

In April, it emerged Maaden would split the overall $10bn aluminium project into two, smaller phases to help it secure financing for the scheme.

It will develop a power plant and aluminium smelter at Ras al-Zour first.The alumina refinery will form part of a second phase, as well as developing a bauxite mine at Zubairah in Qassim province in the centre of Saudi Arabia. The mine will provide the alumina for the smelter in the long term.

Originally, the overall project was planned as a joint venture with Canada’s Alcan, which planned to take a 49 per cent stake in the project. However, the 2007 acquisition of Alcan by UK/Australian mining group Rio Tinto, to form Rio Tinto Alcan, left the combined company with huge debts, forcing it to change its role.

In March 2009, Rio Tinto Alcan agreed a technical co-operation agreement with Maaden in place of the joint venture.