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Qatalum: Supporting a vision

Qatalum are a young company on the aluminum scene, but that hasn’t stopped them quickly making an impressive name for themselves. Celebrated both in Qatar and internationally, the joint venture is well known for its contributions to its industry – a reputation that they plan to maintain as they push forwards with their vision and that of Qatar’s leadership.

Aluminium derives its handle from the Old French alumen, a word with Latin roots meaning “bitter salt”. This translation suggests the material’s discoverers may have gotten a little too close to the soft, silver-white, metal, but don’t let the negative tones in its name fool you – aluminum is one of the greenest, cleanest and most exciting metals going! When it comes to reuse, it can’t be faulted; the material loses none of its properties when it is recycled, meaning it could theoretically keep being recycled to infinity without ever decreasing in quality. If this amazing fact wasn’t enough, the creation of recycled aluminium only takes 5% of the energy it takes to make the metal anew. That’s 95% less energy, with 0% depletion of the material. Those figures are ridiculous, and neatly dispel any concerns that the energy spent in recycling outweighs the final result.

Thankfully, 75% of the aluminium currently in use was recycled – but why do we have the other 25%? Whilst some of this statistic is the result of aluminium being wasted and sent to land-fills, it also represents the ever-growing demand for the material continually outstripping what is currently in circulation. Not only does our expanding consumer appetite constantly call for an increase in products, but this wonder-metal is also, it’s encouraging to see, slipping in to the manufacturing process and replacing less cost-effective materials. For example, in a vehicle, one kilogram of aluminium can supplement two kilograms of heavier materials like steel or iron. This allows for the creation of lighter cars that use less fuel and produce an average of 20 kg less emissions. The lighter material is also used for vehicles such as hovercrafts and other chassis and bodies that require as light a weight as possible.

Unsurprisingly, the automotive industry is the main market for Qatar Aluminium Limited, closely followed by the world of construction. Qatar Aluminium Limited (Qatalum) is a joint venture between two industry giants – Hydro Aluminium and Qatar Petroleum (QP). Formed in 2007, they officially began operations in 2009, and its smelter hit full-capacity production rates two years later, in 2011. The company are dedicated to sustainability and clean production; in their own words, “We are keenly aware of the importance and value of our planet and its environment, and we refuse to compromise on its health and long-term sustainability. To this end the Qatalum Production System has core principles that help us to better protect our environment. Our operations emphasize efficiency, which allows us to reduce our energy consumption and GHG emissions per unit of production.”

Qatalum were fast in claiming their strong position on the aluminium scene – when two giants come together to create something new, it’s no surprise that baby’s first steps are ground-shaking. The company leads has a strong lead in its industry both in Qatar and the GCC, able to produce over 630,000 tons of high-quality aluminium a year. Despite its output and size, the company also claims theirs is one of the most environmentally friendly aluminium smelters in the world.

Qatalum maintain their ambitiously attained status by encouraging what they call “a culture of continuous improvement” within the company. This is on a corporate and personal level, ranging from R&D, staff training and even personal goals. For example, the company launched a five-year improvement program designed specifically to make them one of the 10 most efficient smelters in the world. This all-encompassing goal meant improvements both in savings and competence; the result is a strong lead within Gulf aluminium, both in terms of operational excellence and the high quality of the aluminium they produce.

So what sort of operation are we talking about? Qatalum’s physical footprint is approximately 2.7 km² – that’s around 260 football fields. Included in this vas complex are a carbon plant, port and storage facilities, and ever a dedicated power plant. These dedicated, on-site facilities reduce the need for unnecessary transport of the aluminium and avoid putting strain on exterior sites to keep up with Qatalum’s capacity. The powerplant can generate some 1,350 MW, exceeding the smelter’s usage of 1,050 MW. To keep the plant as efficient as possible, it was designed with low NOx burner technology and selective catalytic reduction. The reliability of this power plant is essential for Qatalum to operate; a power cut of more than a few hours could severely damage all aluminium currently in production, meaning such incidents aren’t an option. For this reason, the plant includes spare capacity, with the option to feed to or take from the national grid if ever necessary.

The famous casthouse’s reputation for quality precedes it. It has been designed around the principle of high efficiently at a low cost, so much so that it regularly outdoes its own calculated capacity, producing mostly extrusion ingots and foundry alloys, although it is also able to produce standard primary ingots. Meanwhile, the company’s integrated carbon plant produces over 1,200 anodes per day – that’s around one anode per minute. Anodes are made from petroleum coke, recycled butts and pitch. All in all, the plant will produce approximately 320,000 tons of anodes per year.

The site also holds Qatalum’s Zero Energy and Emission Building (ZEEB) lab, which is dedicated to researching and testing aluminium used in curtain-wall solutions in a study to create energy, emission and carbon neutral buildings in the Middle East. This lab was built by Norwegian company Hydro, one of Qatalum’s key partners alongside Qatar Petroleum. As Qatalum describes the partnerships, “Qatar Petroleum provides a unique combination of long-term competitive energy resources and industrial infrastructure, whilst Hydro is a global integrated aluminium industry leader with close to a century of experience of aluminium production.”

This lab, along with Qatalum’s continued efforts to maximise their efficiency, are all parts of their mission to support sustainable industry, as a part of their involvement in Qatar’s National Vision 2030 – a vision launched by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani in order to guide economic, social, human and environmental development of the country. The vision is intended as a beacon to light the way forwards for all the peoples of Qatar, and Qatalum value its importance in guiding a way to the future; “The National Vision 2030 continues to be a major part of our long-term strategic plans. We recognise that industrial diversification will be a key element of Qatar’s continued economic development, alongside environmental protection measures and social policies that will provide the platform for a sustainable tomorrow.”