Show of strength in aluminium sector

The production of aluminium across the region is on the increase as countries in the GCC look to strengthen industrial diversification and cladding contractors continue to bag lucrative deals. Zoe Naylor reports on a raft of facilities under construction and the latest contracts to be won by the local aluminium heavyweights.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  September 2, 2006

|~|135prod200.gif|~|Expansion of Dubal’s facilities, which is being managed by SNC-Lavalin, is expected to boost its smelter capacity by over 100,000 tonnes per year.|~|In a bid to diversify their economies away from oil and gas, many of the GCC countries are increasingly investing in aluminium production facilities. According to figures from Gulf Research Centre, aluminium production in the Gulf region may rise to 5 million tonnes by 2010.

Other projects still on the drawing board could see regional production surging past the 7 million-tonne mark by 2012, accounting for almost 20% of the world’s aluminium output.

With worldwide aluminium demand growing at a rapid pace, the Gulf’s state-of-the-art smelters are creating significant export opportunites within the region.

In Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Ma’aden) is building the US $3.8 billion (SR14.2 billion) Az Zabirah Aluminium Project.

Work involves the construction of an aluminium smelter and alumina refinery in the Ras Al Zour industrial zone on the central east coast of Saudi Arabia. Production is expected to begin in 2008. A port will also be built at Ras Al Zour for exporting the alumina and aluminium and for importing raw materials.

Qatar Petroleum recently formed a joint venture with Norwegian firm Hydro to build and operate a $3 billion aluminium plant in Qatar.

Located in Qatar’s Mesaieed Industrial City, the smelter will have an annual capacity of 585,000 tonnes of primary aluminium and will utilise Qatar’s abundant natural gas as feedstock.

Billed as the largest initial phase greenfield aluminium smelter ever to be built, the plant’s annual production
capacity has the potential to reach around 1.2 million tonnes.

According to HE Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, minister of energy and industry and managing director of Qatar Petroleum, “Qatar is an ideal location for serving growing aluminium markets in Asia, Europe and also the US.

“The vast gas resources of Qatar, combined with the country’s ambition to diversify its industry, will ensure a long-term competitive aluminium plant.” Construction of the plant is expected to begin mid-2007 with production due to commence by the end of 2009.

Elsewhere in the region, Bechtel is undertaking the engineering, procurement, construction and project management (EPCM) for a 325,000 tonnes-per-year aluminium smelter in Sohar, northern Oman. The $2.2 billion project will also include a power station, desalination plant and port facility.

In Dubai, SNC-Lavalin was awarded yet another contract by Dubai Aluminium Company (Dubal) for work on its Jebel Ali aluminium smelter. The Canadian firm is providing EPCM services for the expansion of two existing potlines, as well as construction management services for a new alumina silo.

The expanded potlines are expected to increase Dubal’s smelter capacity by more than 100,000 tonnes of liquid aluminium a year.

While the Gulf’s aluminium production facilities are a valuable source of export revenue, they are also serving the booming construction market closer to home.

Reem Emirates Aluminium will use the latest technology to supply the UAE with unitised aluminium curtain walls from its new plant, which is due to be built in Abu Dhabi.

According to Reem’s general manager, Derek Bruce, construction of the new factory will begin next month and the facility should be up and running by March 2007. “The next generation of curtain walls will focus on employee comfort and energy saving devices,” says Bruce.

This means creating an active curtain wall that is connected to the building management system. According to Bruce, active curtain wall technology is the future and represents the next generation of façades.

“With active curtain walling, everything is connected to a
computer that tells you when the light is too bright, what the
air temperature and surface temperature is, as well as the relative humidity.

“It controls everything in the office — the computer will even tell you when the sun is directly above and what angle the Venetian blinds should be to maximise the light.”

The blinds can then catch the natural light and throw it into the building, which reduces the need for artificial lighting thus saving on electricity costs.

Bruce believes that this ‘green’ approach to curtain walling is set to have a massive impact on the region’s construction market and will offer a high-end solution for corporate offices in particular.

“The pollution and the burning of fossil fuels for power plants, along with the rising costs of electricity — all of these issues are going to come slamming down one day, and what we want to do is be ready for a solution when people start waking up to it.

“Essentially our new factory is being built to service the demand from Al Reem Island in Abu Dhabi, which has over 170 towers to be built over the next 10 years. But we also want to branch out into other areas so we’re looking for interesting buildings on which we can demonstrate our high-tech approach,” he adds.

When up and running, the Reem Emirates Aluminium factory will have a production capacity of 400 panels per day, which equates to approximately 2,000m2. The emphasis will be on the unitised panels as opposed to the conventional stick system.

In addition to the aluminium section, the facility will also incorporate a stainless steel factory, a glass processing factory and a powder coating facility.

Elsewhere in the UAE, aluminium façade contractor Alumco has scooped a major contract to supply 75,500m2 of its aluminium façades to the 63-storey Burj Dubai Lake Hotel.

Valued at $23.5 million, the contract is one of the largest cladding supply packages to have been awarded in the UAE this year.

Alumco penned the deal with the main contractor on the project, an Arabtec-Besix joint venture, to supply of 35,000m2sup of unitised curtain wall, 35,000m2 of composite panels and 5,500m of aluminium handrails.

This latest deal comes just after Alumco won a package on Citadel Tower in Business Bay to supply 27,000m2 unitised curtain walling and 2,500m2 of louvres and aluminium screens.

Dubai-based Al Abbar is likewise forging ahead with its own new contract wins. Earlier this year the architectural aluminium firm picked up a contract to supply cladding to the Burj Dubai’s podium and office annex.

It has also won contracts to supply Nakheel’s Al Mas tower, Dubai Tower in Doha and the World Trade Centre Residence
in Dubai.

Al Abbar has opened its first satellite office in Bahrain following its curtain wall contract on the Bahrain World Trade Center in Manama.

“Bahrain’s construction sector is thriving — which obviously creates a demand for expertise in the field of aluminium curtain walling, stainless steel and architectural glass,” says Al Abbar’s commercial manager, Ahmed Rasheed.

In addition to contract wins for façade contractors and new smelters springing up across the GCC, much of the talk when it comes to aluminium focuses on price hikes and the knock-on effect within the construction industry.

“The aluminium price hike is a ripple effect — the LME prices go up, Dubal’s prices go up, so our prices go up,” says Jabr Doshan, deputy general manager of Abu Dhabi-based aluminium profile supplier, White Aluminium.

“The problem stays with the contractor who has a one or two year-old contract. That’s where the crunch is felt. And as production of aluminium is very energy intensive, so as long as the oil prices stay up then aluminium prices will probably stay up,” adds Doshan.

World demand for aluminium is growing significantly year on year. Figures from Gulf Research Centre show that the metal accounted for 12% and 7% of last year’s GDP in Bahrain and Dubai respectively, and its role within the GCC market is set to increase yet further in the coming years.

This may explain why the GCC countries are investing strongly in major aluminium production lines that look set to provide the region with an export industry that does not rely on oil or gas production.||**||

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