Aluminum: A shining key to Iceland’s economy

When Alcoa elected to build Fjarðaál, its first primary smelter in 20 years, the company aimed to install an environmentally conscious plant alongside a glacier-fed fjord in Iceland. With capacity of 346,000 metric tons per year, the project represented the largest private investment in the nation’s history.

To help execute this project, which would face numerous challenges posed by the harsh climate, Alcoa appointed Bechtel as the prime contractor. Alcoa celebrated the formal opening of the smelter, completed on schedule and on budget in less than three years after breaking ground. The finished Fjarðaál created approximately 400 jobs.

Protecting a unique location

Bechtel worked in close collaboration with Alcoa to design the zero-waste-to-landfill project, which resulted in Fjarðaál being among the most environmentally sustainable facilities of its kind. In order to ensure our customer could meet its commitments, Bechtel worked with vendors and suppliers to guarantee the return of reusable materials and contracted local firms for recycling. Ultimately, more than 90 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfills and no process water was discharged into the nearby fjord.

For our efforts, Bechtel earned Iceland's highest environmental award, the Conch, which honors companies that contribute to environmental protection.

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Protecting workers

Bechtel collaborated with the East Iceland Medical Directorate, local physicians, and first responders to install emergency and on-site primary care services with round-the-clock health care access for the project’s 2,200 workers. 

Which way the wind blows

Iceland’s coastal winds can reach 90 miles (145 kilometers) per hour, which shut down crane operations and other works. The project team overcame this issue by building modules on the ground and even purchasing entire buildings preassembled, so they could be installed when possible. The team also developed an innovative construction plan to erect Fjarðaál’s potroom roof from platforms indoors to protect ironworkers.

Working together to supply Fjarðaál

Thanks in part to the successful collaboration in Iceland, Alcoa also selected Bechtel to build an anodes plant in Norway, which was completed in 2007. The facility’s anodes are utilized by Fjarðaál and also the Mosjoen smelter in Norway.