GLOBAL INSIGHT / Bahrain report 2019

Leading the world in aluminum

Aluminium Bahrain has expanded its capacity to become the world’s largest single-site aluminum smelter.

GLOBAL INSIGHT

In 2019, Aluminium Bahrain B.S.C. (Alba) will fully bring online a major expansion of its production site that will make it the world’s largest single-site aluminum smelter. “We will generate an extra 540,000 metric tons a year (mtpa) of the metal, giving us a total capacity of over 1.5 million mtpa, and it will add more than $1 billion to our revenues in 2018 of $2.4 billion,” said Alba’s CEO, Tim Murray.

Alba’s aluminum smelting — a process in which the metal is extracted from its oxide, alumina — represents one of the kingdom’s earliest successful diversifications beyond oil. Founded in 1968, the company was privatized in 2010, with 69.38 percent now owned by the sovereign fund Mumtalakat, 21.62 percent by Saudi Arabia’s SABIC and 10 percent by the general public.

Over the years, the Alba plant has seen a number of expansions and, prior to the latest, it had five production lines. The latest expansion, “Line 6 Expansion Project,” puts the company in pole position to take advantage of a deficit in aluminum. “Demand is growing by about 3 percent a year and there is currently a world deficit of around 2 million mtpa. To illustrate, that is the same amount that Japan imports a year. Outside of China, Alba is the only major expansion project in the pipeline,” Murray stated.

To take advantage of the increasing demand, $2.5 billion was raised to finance Line 6 Expansion Project from various sources including Nippon Export and Investment Insurance. Commissioning started, ahead of schedule, in December 2018 and it will be fully operational in the third quarter of 2019.

The new line is fitted with cutting-edge equipment, the CEO said, “Fuji Electric did a great job supplying us with critical equipment, for example.”

As with the rest of Alba’s plant, it is also very safe — by the end of April 2019, the smelter had exceeded 39 million hours of operations over two years without a lost time injury.

In addition to capacity, Alba has two main advantages over its global competitors. The first is in something all smelters consume in massive quantities: energy.

“We use Bahraini natural gas and have five power stations, the newest of which uses highly efficient turbines from General Electric,” he noted. This leads to Alba’s other advantage: cost, which it maintains at a competitive level by running an annual cost-savings “Titan” program that targets all aspects of its operations.

Half of Alba’s new production will be exported in the form of ingots, billets, foundry alloys and slabs to the U.S., Europe and Asia, including Japan. The remainder will be used within Bahrain to build added value through downstream industries. The government has set aside land for these new sectors and some Japanese companies have expressed an interest.

Murray explained why: “Aluminum, automotive and other manufacturers setting up in Bahrain can use our liquid metal and save on re-melting costs, the logistics are good, as is access to other Gulf countries. Plus, Alba’s production is state of the art in all respects — it is a top-tier aluminum smelter.”