A shining example of applied know-how
Our assignment to build Oman’s Sohar smelter came on the heels of our successful expansion of the Alba Aluminium smelter in Bahrain. The experience we gained at Alba and other previous projects was invaluable given the massive size, complexity, and speed this job required.
At the time, Sohar was one of only two smelters in many years to be constructed from the ground up, and the first in the Persian Gulf in a quarter century. It would include the world’s longest and highest-capacity potline, the row of cells that yield aluminum.
The other greenfield smelter being built at the time, Fjarðaál, in Iceland, was also a Bechtel project. Both became benchmark examples of how to execute metals megaprojects, and each has played a vital role in meeting the soaring global demand for aluminum.
Scaling up a smelter for escalating demand
When it was built, the Sohar project, at the northeastern end of the Arabian Peninsula, included the world’s largest and most technologically advanced potline. With 360 pots (the next largest had 336), the potline can produce up to 350,000 metric tons of aluminum annually. The project also encompassed construction of a carbon plant, an ingot-casting facility, and a port facility for storage and shipping.
Unlike other countries in the Gulf region, Oman is not a major oil producer. To diversify its economy, the country’s government encourages foreign investment in light and heavy industries such as aluminum. Throughout the Sohar project, Bechtel and its customer helped Oman make progress on its Vision 2020 plan, established in 1996 and geared to create opportunities for the large number of young Omanis graduating from the country’s schools and colleges.
Women were among those trained in electrical and mechanical disciplines and placed into construction roles—a first for the country. Nearly one-third of all mechanical assistants we hired were women.
With support from Oman’s Ministry of Manpower and our customer, Bechtel’s construction trainees spent four to six months learning carpentry, masonry, machinery operation, and electrical. The courses included four- to six-month classroom and on-the-job training sessions tailored to local craft skills. We also offered courses in environmental, safety, and health practices; financial literacy; English; and—to prepare workers for careers after we complete construction—computers. It was the first program of its kind in the Batinah region.
- 1,900 Omanis were employed at the peak of construction
- 868 Omanis were trained and hired as electricians and carpenters, and in other skilled positions
- 112 people transitioned to smelter operations jobs after construction
- 30 percent of all mechanical assistants on the project were Bechtel-trained Omani women
Supporting the local economy
In addition to training and hiring local workers, project personnel purchased goods and services from local companies—up to 30 percent of Sohar’s procurement budget. Bechtel awarded at least one-fourth of its smelter-related business—more than $300 million—to Omani companies for goods and services that ranged from providing concrete and steel to provisioning the on-site camp with food and furnishings.
A cure for curing
Curing the concrete in 580 massive support columns for Sohar’s potroom structure was a challenging job in Oman, where temperatures reach 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) and water is available only by trucking it in.
Bechtel developed an innovative concrete-curing solution to avoid spraying the concrete surface with scarce water that would rapidly evaporate. We bonded panels of polystyrene foam to timber framing then bolted them together around the columns. The system didn’t require maintenance or water, and the panels were reused, saving time and resources.