The joint venture of Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Maaden) and the US’ Alcoa have halted production on one of its potlines at its 740,000 tonne-a-year (t/y) aluminium smelter at Ras al-Khair in the Eastern Province.

Alcoa cited “potline instability” as the reason behind the outage. This means the liquid aluminium in the metal-producing cells, known as pots, has solidified and needs to be removed. This process is complicated and Alcoa says the potline will be out of action until the first quarter of 2014 and will not be fully operational until the second quarter.

The second potline at the smelter is being ramped up as planned and will now be accelerated. Alcoa has insisted that none of its customers will be affected by the outage.

The Maaden/Alcoa smelter scheme involves producing primary aluminium from two lines, with each line producing 370,000 t/y.

The outage is also not going to affect any of the other schemes being constructed as part of the $10.8bn aluminium complex at Ras al-Khair. They include a 380,000-t/y rolling mill, a 1.8 million-t/y alumina refinery and a 100,000-t/y aluminium sheet plant.

The complex is part of Riyadh’s industrial diversification drive and Ras al-Khair is expected to become both a domestic and regional hub for the aluminium sector. In September 2012, MEED reported that India’s Tata Motors was exploring the possibility of building a car assembly plant in the city.

The Gulf’s aluminium producers have experienced two similar outages in recent years. In 2010, Qatar Aluminium (Qatalum) suffered an outage that resulted in primary metal solidifying in 444 pots at its plant. In 2008, Dubai Aluminium (Dubal) had a similar outage, but managed to restart production in under three months.

Maaden holds a 74.9 per cent stake in the aluminium complex, while Alcoa owns the remaining 25.1 per cent.