An overview of the smelter

An overview of the smelter

Sohar Aluminium pours first hot metal

01 July 2008

The first ‘hot metal’ was successfully produced at the Sohar Aluminium (SA) smelter in the first half of June, on schedule and after three years of meticulous construction and planning.

The first production, witnessed by SA chairman Ahmed Al Wahaibi and a host of SA officials, shareholder representatives and other special guests, marked the beginning of the smelter’s production, which will take six months to reach full capacity.
Using Alcan/AP smelter technology, this $2.4 billion greenfield project involved the construction of a single 360-pot AP35G aluminium smelter potline with a capacity of approximately 350,000 metric tonnes per year, a carbon anode plant, a metal casting facility, and a port facility for product storage and ship loading and unloading. When complete, the potline will be the largest single potline in the world.
“We have all admired the perseverance of the operations teams having to prepare for start-up under difficult conditions, and this makes the hot metal achievement even more special, thanks to their dedication to getting the job done,” said Al Wahaibi.
“Of course, the first ingot is just the beginning. The objective now is a smooth, safe and sustainable start-up. Sohar Aluminium has demonstrated an excellent safety record to date and we must do our utmost to ensure that continues.”
Sohar Aluminium’s shareholders are Oman Oil Company (40 per cent), Abu Dhabi Water and  Electricity Authority (40 per cent), and Rio Tinto Alcan (20 per cent).
On schedule and on budget
SA chief executive Tony Kinsman congratulated Sohar Aluminium, Bechtel, Alstom and the contractor staff for working so well together to achieve first hot metal on schedule.
“This is a very proud moment for everyone at Sohar Aluminium, from the shareholders and management team to all operators, maintainers and support staff,” said Kinsman.
“It is tangible evidence that even with a new young local workforce, Oman can provide the necessary ingredients for new international enterprises to set up and be of ongoing benefit to the greater population for years to come.”
As well as achieving its construction and production targets, the Sohar Aluminium project has also managed to stay on budget throughout the entire design, procurement and construction phase.
“In this world of rapidly escalating costs and lengthy project delays, what we have achieved here is truly remarkable,” said the general manager of the smelter project, Geoffrey Brookes.

‘Excellent’ safety record
“It is a credit to our contractors and our entire project team that we have defied the odds and brought the project in on schedule and on budget. Coupled with that, we have an excellent safety record on both the smelter and power plant sites which is extremely satisfying.”
The start-up of the smelter requires each of the 360 cells cell to be brought on sequentially, one by one. The first cell to be energised was B005 on 06 June and, on Wednesday 11 June, the metal production process commenced.
“Initially, the team will start up one cell per day, with this number gradually increasing as the process becomes more proficient,” said Sohar Aluminium operations general manager, Michel Huot.
“The start-up process should take six months to complete but the teams will strive to reduce this where possible. There is great incentive to complete start-up early as this enables more metal to be produced during this phase to improve the revenue of the smelter.”
In preparation for the start-up phase, Huot said the operations team had spent approximately one million man-hours in training in several countries around the world including France, Canada, Bahrain, Dubai and Australia. The operational workforce comprises more than 65 per cent Omanis, mainly from the local Al Batinah region.
Sohar Aluminium has a dedicated power plant, located in the Sohar Industrial Port area. The general manager of the power plant, Niall O’Byrne, said: “I am confident that, following commissioning of the fourth gas turbine (in May), the power plant has ample power to supply the smelter during the start-up phase.”

Provision for the future
While the company has no immediate plans for expansion, there is provision for the development of another potline in the future, a company spokesperson said.
SA has a metal offtake agreement with Rio Tinto Alcan.
The company plans to sell up to 60 per cent of its product in liquid form to the local market,” the spokesperson said. “We have one agreement in place with SAG of Austria and several others in the process of being negotiated. We are actively engaged in the development of the downstream sector with the purpose of promoting diversification to the local economy and the creation of jobs for local Omanis.  This is one of our key objectives and is one that we are very keen to see prosper.”
The project gave a boost to the local economy. “During construction, we outlayed around $400 million in local contracts and there are a further 100 or so contracts that need to be filled during our operations phase,” said the spokesman.

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