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rising from the sand – the ma’aden alcoa project
Strong, light, recyclable and versatile; aluminium is in many ways the foundation of future global development and Alcoa is working to secure its place in the growing market. In December 2009 Alcoa signed a partnership agreement with Ma’aden for the development of a world class bauxite mine, alumina refinery, aluminium smelter and rolling mill in Saudi Arabia. Once completed the Ma’aden Alcoa Project will be one of the lowest cost, fully integrated aluminium complexes in the world.
The project is now well underway and the hard work continues as the project literally rises from the sand in Saudi Arabia. Vice President Major Projects - Mining and Refining for Alcoa Global Primary Products, Dave Olney, has been working on the Ma’aden Alcoa Project for the past two years.
“Two immediate impressions hit me,” said Dave. “Firstly, the physical size - it’s a massive complex. The other is how rapidly it’s growing. Progress is now very visual given that the refinery, smelter and rolling mill are all under construction.”
Dave supports the project’s resourcing and management and assists in making sure the right people are in the right roles and that Alcoa’s information and knowledge regarding processes and project management is transferred to the project, particularly regarding refining.
“Ma’aden has been working on the project for around six years, so it was only relatively recently that Alcoa formally signed an agreement to partner the project,” he said. “There’s no history of alumina refining in Saudi Arabia, so our key role in the partnership is to provide refining technology and specialised support.
“Whilst the overall refinery design is well known to Alcoa, the refinery technology is somewhat different in the digestion area from conventional low temperature digestion used in most Alcoa refineries, although it is in use in some other refineries. This difference is related to the nature of the bauxite in Saudi Arabia which is very high in boehmite and requires higher digestion temperature - higher than in any other Alcoa refinery.”
So far the project’s major components are either on or ahead of schedule. The smelter and rolling mill are scheduled to begin production in 2013 and the first alumina production is scheduled for
Q4, 2014. Alcoa has a contract to supply alumina to the smelter until the refinery is operational.
Dave has been with Alcoa for 34 years and says that to work on a project so big and in a region so new and different is a double challenge, and possibly a once in a career opportunity.

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The Ma’aden Alcoa project under construction