48°33'2"N | 71°39'10"W

Alma Aluminum Smelter, Québec, Canada Overview

Scope of Work Construction and engineering, management, procurement, pre-operations testing, and startup assistance
Value $1.7 billion
Schedule 1998–2000
Business Mining & Metals

Bechtel helped Québec emerge as a world leader in aluminum production

The Alma project entailed building a carbon plant, a reduction plant, a casting center, and supporting infrastructure. At the peak of construction, more than 4,500 workers were on site, in the small town of Alma on the shores of Lac Saint-Jean. With its capacity of more than 400,000 tons per year, the Alma smelter is one of the largest in the world.

Bechtel managed a team of architecture and engineering firms and worked closely with Alcan (now Rio Tinto Alcan), the owner, to incorporate the company’s proprietary process equipment and technology into the Alma project. The result is a facility that produces five times more aluminum than a nearby plant but requires only 35 percent more workers. The Alma smelter also is gentler on the environment, thanks to innovative emissions-reduction features developed by Alcan and implemented with Bechtel’s help.

Bechtel contributed expertise of its own in the form of ProjectWorks®, automation software that utilized specialized modules to coordinate all phases of design and construction.

Inside the project

With Alma and a few other smelters along the Saguenay River, Québec’s Saguenay region is often called Aluminum Valley. Optimal resources abounded for the new smelter at Alma: a nearby bauxite refinery, an efficient rail system, abundant hydropower electricity, and a skilled workforce.

The owner’s refinery, about an hour’s drive from Alma, produces alumina from bauxite ore, which is shipped by rail to Alma for smelting. Alcan operated its own rail system, which Bechtel upgraded to increase capacity. The Alma project also included an upgrade to the plant’s alumina storage and handling facilities.

Further, Bechtel upgraded Alcan’s transmission lines to supply the plant with 161 kilovolts of electricity, massive amounts of which lie at the heart of the smelting process.

Aucune surprise

The project team adopted “No Surprises” (Aucune Surprise) as its guiding principle, born of the decade’s worth of trust that Bechtel and Alcan had developed on a number of projects.

That approach extended beyond project borders to the community of Alma and its 25,000 residents. Alcan began keeping Alma citizens informed from the time it was announced in February 1998. From then on, public meetings and informational letters mailed to each of the smelter’s 620 immediate neighbors kept people apprised. 

This trust filters both up and down through all organizations involved in the project. We actively fight surprises by full ‘open book’ communication.”—Maher Boutros, Bechtel project manager 

Sustainable solution

In 1995, Alcan voluntarily committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, despite an increase in its aluminum production capacity.