As a standalone aluminium project, the $10.8bn Ras al-Zour complex currently under construction in Saudi Arabia is the largest in scale ever attempted anywhere.
The project has been in the making for almost a decade and after a series of delays, it now really starting to progress.
The case for a major aluminium industry in Saudi Arabia is compelling because the entire supply chain can be managed within the kingdom. Access to bauxite, a new mineral railway network to transport it in bulk, access to cheap energy and a young population to supply the labour all found in the kingdom.
The joint venture partners behind the scheme, Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Maaden) and the US’ Alcoa, also seem like a good match. Maaden is the majority shareholders with a 74.9 per cent stake, but Alcoa’s contribution is not undervalued by its partner.
Alcoa will market the surplus primary metal from the smelter, but it is also expected to make a much larger contribution in regards to the rolling mill that is part of the complex.
As the decision looms for the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for the rolling mill section of the project, it is worth reflecting on how quickly Maaden and Alcoa has moved this forward.
With a capacity of 380,000 tonnes a year, the mill will be the largest built outside of China in the past two decades. It will mostly produce can stock that will mostly be sold on the domestic market.
Alcoa has extensive experience in the downstream aluminium industry and this know-how will prove vital to the rolling mill project. Not only will the knowledge prove essential in the commissioning phase, but it will also prove crucial when it comes to training locals to operate the facility.
Saudi Arabia has a long way to go in its industrial diversification plans, but the breadth of scope of Maaden’s grand plan indicates that they are taking it very seriously.