The UK investment firm MerchantBridge and France’s Lafarge will ramp up production of their Karbala cement plant and capacity will hit 576,000 tonnes a year (t/y) by the end of 2011.

“The plant upgrade is going very smoothly and we have yet to start the full rehabilitation,” says Eric le Blan, acting chief executive officer of MerchantBridge. “We will hit the breakeven point in early 2012, which gives you an indication of how far we have come with the site.”

Major cement plants in Iraq
Project Capacity (million t/y) Date complete
Dohuk Cement Plant 2.2 2011
Karbala Cement Plant  2 2013
Sulaymaniyah Cement Plant  1.9 2012
Source: MEED Projects

After full rehabilitation is completed in 2013, the plant will have a capacity of 1.8 million t/y and will provide almost 10 per cent of Iraq’s total capacity.

The plant is located about 90 kilometres to the east of the city of Karbala and is 230km from the border with Saudi Arabia.

Le Blan added that Iraq cement is now drawing a premium in the country and the offtake from the Karbala plant fetches an $8 a bag premium when sold at retail prices in the city.  

“Iraq needs a strong domestic supply of high-quality cement,” he says. “And this demand is only going to increase.”

MerchantBridge and Lafarge still plan to build a greenfield 2 million-t/y cement plant at a different site in Karbala, but will not start work until the rehabilitation is almost complete (MEED 14:1:11).

Iraq imports about 10 million t/y of cement and has a consumption of just over 15 million t/y.