Saudi mining hub plays key role in kingdom’s industrial dream – by Katie Paul (Reuters U.S. – June 3, 2016)

RAS AL-KHAIR, Saudi Arabia, June 2 At a sprawling desert complex on Saudi Arabia’s northeastern Gulf coast, refineries, smelters and casting machines transform dull pink rocks into silver aluminium bars, a symbol of the kingdom’s attempt to diversify its economy.

After only two years in operation, the $10.8 billion aluminium project at Ras al-Khair, an industrial city 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of the oil hub of Dammam, is already the world’s largest integrated aluminium facility.

And in coming years, the success of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to build an economy that does not rely on oil and state subsidies will depend partly on what state-controlled Saudi Arabian Mining Co (Ma’aden), which runs the complex, can achieve with it.

Aluminium is the company’s single-largest cash generator, at 4.8 billion riyals ($1.3 billion) in revenue last year, and mining is a pillar of Saudi Arabia’s shift away from oil. Saudi hopes are pinned on vast untapped reserves of bauxite, used to make aluminium, as well as phosphate, gold, copper and uranium.

“Ras al-Khair city overall is really equipped to expand in so many industries, but I think the aluminium will be a major part of our future strategy,” said Abdul Aziz al-Harbi, president of Ma’aden Aluminium, a joint venture between Ma’aden and U.S. aluminium giant Alcoa.

Mining in Saudi Arabia was neglected for decades, apart from some small-scale gold extraction. But in April, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made big promises for the sector as part of a broad economic reform plan.

He said mining would generate an annual 97 billion riyals and create 90,000 jobs within five years.Saudi Arabia’s commitment was underlined when the kingdom made the new chief of its energy ministry, Khalid al-Falih, chairman of Ma’aden, fuelling a rally in the company’s stock.

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