Dubai: Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA) took a step closer to completing development of its $3.3 billion (Dh12.12 billion) alumina refinery with the completion of two calciners capable of processing up to 7,000 tonnes of alumina — processed bauxite ore — a day.

When the full refinery — the first such refinery in the UAE — at EGA’s Al Taweelah plant at Kizad, Abu Dhabi, is completely operational in the first half of 2019, EGA will be able to refine 2 million tonnes of alumina a year — 40 per cent of its annual requirements. At present, it imports all the alumina it smelts into aluminium.

EGA Managing Director and CEO Abdullah Jassem Kalban said at a press briefing on Tuesday that the refinery project will add Dh1 billion to the UAE’s gross domestic product.

He said the refinery would be the first in the UAE, and only the second in the region, the first being the Saudi Mining Company’s refinery at Maaden, which became operational in 2014.

“It is a game changer for us,” added Zaher Abdullah Al Habtari, EGA’s senior vice-president for Refinery Operations, whose team will run the refinery. “From a midstream operator into integrated throughout the value chain, it’s a major game-changer.”

Kalban said the development of the refinery was part of a strategy to move towards an integrated supply chain.

“For a company that over the past 40 years had been focusing primarily on the midstream and, through strategic decisions, to go and invest in the upstream and connect that value chain from the mine to the metal, that has been quite an important strategy for us... to ensure that we are securing our supply and also to ensure that we are generating a different source of revenue through that upstream investment. That’s why we believe it’s a game-changer. It’s different to what we’ve been doing historically over the past 40 years.”

Aluminium is the UAE’s second largest export after oil and gas. The $3.3 billion refinery project has been fully financed by EGA, without record to banks or outside lenders, Kalban said.

The calciners, which help control the quality of alumina sent to the smelters, will enable EGA to tailor production for smelting specific types of aluminium and aluminium alloys — a process EGA refers to as premium production, and which currently accounts for 82 per cent of its output.

It also helps the firm — the UAE’s largest industrial company outside the oil and gas sector — secure its supply of alumina. The firm has signed an agreement with Compagnie des Bauxite des Guinee to supply the ore to its Al Taweelah plant.

Kalban was keen to stress the plant project’s health and safety record, with 2.4 million working hours on the calciners and 20 million hours on the refinery without lost-time injury (LTI).

Impact of US Tariffs

EGA Managing Director and CEO Abdullah Jassem Kalban was reluctant to discuss the impact of US tariffs on the firm during a press briefing on Tuesday, saying he and his team preferred to focus on the completion of their new alumina refinery calcifers.

However, he did say the US was a good market for EGA. “We’ve been there since 1998, we have a very good customer base in the USA. I think we will continue supplying our customers.”

Kalban said talks between the UAE government and the US regarding tariffs were progressing “very well”, but had no further details to share.

He said EGA still intended to go ahead with a planned IPO in the second half of this year, but timing would depend on market conditions. He declined to go into details of the IPO plan, saying they would be revealed closer to the time.