Making aluminum history in Oman
Sohar Aluminium was formed for a specific reason: to execute a major greenfield smelter project in Oman. The company, jointly owned by OQ Group, Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC - TAQA and Rio Tinto, planned to build the Persian Gulf’s first smelter in 25 years, which would include the world’s longest and highest-capacity potline.
To help make this project a reality, Sohar partnered with Bechtel. The assignment followed our successful expansion of Alba’s smelter in Bahrain. The experience we gained at Alba and previous projects was crucial given the size and complexity Sohar required.
Sohar was created to ensure efficiency, environmental protection and the safety of its workforce. In addition to the line with 360 pots, which allow the smelter to reach annual production capacity of 375,000 metric tons, the project also included construction of a carbon plant, an ingot-casting facility, and a port facility for storage and shipping.
Simultaneously with Sohar, Bechtel executed the other greenfield smelter being built at the time - Fjarðaál in Iceland. Thanks to the strong collaboration between Bechtel and our customers, both became benchmark examples of how to execute metals megaprojects.
Vision 2020: contributing to economic diversification
Unlike other countries in the Gulf region, Oman is not a major oil producer. As a result, the government encourages foreign investment in industries such as aluminum. Throughout project execution, Bechtel and its customer helped Oman make progress on its Vision 2020 plan, geared towards creating opportunities for local workers.
In addition to training and hiring Omani workers, the project awarded more than $300 million to local companies for smelter-related goods and services that ranged from providing concrete and steel to supplying on-site camp food and furnishings.
In a first for the country, women were trained in electrical and mechanical disciplines and placed into construction roles.
With support from Oman’s Ministry of Manpower and our customer, construction trainees spent four to six months learning carpentry, masonry, machinery operation, and electrical skills. The courses included classroom and on-the-job training sessions tailored to local craft skills. We also worked with Sohar to offer courses on environmental, safety, and health practices, financial literacy and English.
- 1,900 Omanis were employed at the peak of construction
- 868 Omanis were trained and hired as electricians, carpenters, and other skilled positions
- 30 percent of all mechanical assistants on the project were Bechtel-trained and hired Omani women
At the time First Hot Metal was produced, which occurred less than three years after the project was awarded to Bechtel, the team had worked nearly 12 million consecutive job hours without an accident.
Saving a precious resource
Curing concrete in 580 support columns for the pot room structure would have been an enormous challenge anywhere, but especially in Oman, where temperatures reach 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) and water is available only by trucking it in.
We worked closely with our customer and contractors to develop an innovative solution to avoid spraying the concrete surface with scarce water that would have rapidly evaporated. We bonded panels of polystyrene foam to timber framing then bolted them together around the columns. The system did not require maintenance or water, and the panels were reused, saving time and resources.
Sohar, which was completed on schedule and within its budget, produced over 3.7 million metric tons of aluminum in its first 10 years of operation. The cutting-edge technology used in the production process maximizes productivity and plant performance, thus increasing production volumes.