Originally conceived by former owner Alcan, the Alma project aimed to build a major smelter that would further develop Québec as a global aluminum center.
Alma included building a carbon plant, a reduction plant, a casting center, and supporting infrastructure to produce a smelter with capacity of more than 400,000 metric tons per year.
To achieve this goal, Alcan (which was later acquired by Rio Tinto) awarded the project to Bechtel in 1998. Our scope included project management; engineering, procurement, and construction management; pre-operations testing; and startup assistance.
Bechtel managed a site team that peaked at over 4,500 workers, oversaw architecture and engineering firms and worked closely with Alcan to incorporate process equipment and technology into the smelter. The result was a facility that produced five times more aluminum than a nearby plant but required only 35 percent more workers.
Furthermore, innovative emissions-reduction features developed by Alcan and implemented with Bechtel’s assistance reduced Alma’s environmental impact.
Teamwork was crucial to the project’s progress as a combined group included Alcan’s employees in a single project execution team. This improved collaboration and communication for Alma, which was completed in 2000.
The “Aluminum Valley”
With Alma and several other smelters located along the Saguenay River, Québec’s Saguenay region is often called “Aluminum Valley.” Optimal resources abounded for the smelter project: a nearby bauxite refinery, an efficient rail system, abundant hydropower electricity, and a skilled workforce.
The owner’s refinery 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 during the project. In addition, the project included improvements to the plant’s alumina storage and handling facilities. Furthermore, Bechtel helped to upgrade the transmission lines to supply the plant with 161 kilovolts of electricity.
Thanks in part to Alba, the Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean region is now responsible for close to half of Rio Tinto’s global aluminum production. The company’s operations in the area include an alumina refinery, four wholly owned smelters, six hydropower plants and a port.