At a sprawling desert complex on Saudi Arabia’s northeastern Gulf coast, refineries, smelters and casting machines transform dull pink rocks into silver aluminum bars, a symbol of the Kingdom’s attempt to diversify its economy.
After only two years in operation, the $10.8 billion aluminum project at Ras Al-Khair, an industrial city 200 km north of the oil hub of Dammam, is already the world’s largest integrated aluminum facility.
In the coming years, the success of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to build an economy that does not rely on oil and state subsidies will depend partly on what Saudi Arabian Mining Co. (Maaden), which runs the complex, can achieve with it.
Aluminum is the company’s single-largest cash generator, with SR4.8 billion ($1.3 billion) revenue last year, so that mining is a pillar of Saudi Arabia’s shift away from oil.
Saudi hopes are pinned on vast untapped reserves of bauxite, used to make aluminum as well as phosphate, gold, copper and uranium.
The city includes a port, a 2,400-megawatt power plant for desalinating water and producing electricity, in addition to the railway line linking the complex directly to bauxite and phosphate mines.
For his part, Abdul Aziz Al-Harbi, president of Maaden Aluminum, a joint venture between Ma’aden and Alcoa, the US-based aluminum giant, said: "Ras Al-Khair city is really equipped to expand in so many industries, but I think the aluminum will be a major part of our future strategy."
He confirmed that the company's target is to be the lowest-cost producer in the world, which is already approaching now.
Exports of alumina, an intermediate substance in the production of aluminum, and more downstream industrial facilities are planned, said Al-Harbi.
Meanwhile, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made big promises for the mining sector as part of a broad economic reform plan in April, confirming that mining would generate an annual SR97 billion and create 90,000 jobs within five years.
Source ; Arab News