A consortium of the Societe Miniere de Boke (SMB) and Singapore’s Winning Shipping signed an agreement with Guinea’s government to build the country’s first refinery of alumina, used to make aluminium.
The million tonne per year refinery is part of a $3 billion project to develop Guinea’s bauxite industry, the largest in Africa.
The West African nation is home to about a third of the world’s bauxite reserves and output of aluminium ore more than doubled last year to about 50 million tonnes on the back of investments by aluminium giant Alcoa , Rio Tinto Alcan and private investment group Dadco.
The country has no facilities to transform those reserves into higher-grade alumina, which fetches higher prices on world markets.
In a statement, the consortium said it signed three agreements with the Guinean government for construction of the project, due to start next year and expected to be completed in 2022.
In addition to the refinery, the agreements include access to new mining areas and construction of a 135 km railway line connecting SMB’s bauxite mines in Boke to reserves in the north-western region Boffa.
Production is projected to reach 10 million tonnes in the first year of operations, rising to 20 million tonnes in 2023 and 30 million tonnes in 2024, said the statement.
The bauxite industry has taken on greater significance for the economy in Guinea, where development of huge iron ore deposits in its forested interior stalled due to a slump in global commodities prices in 2014.
The industry was rocked by riots and strikes in the mining town Boke over a perceived failure of the mining sector to raise living standards.
SMB – owned by Guinea, China’s Winning Shipping Ltd, Shandong Weiqiao and UMS International Ltd – lost between a million to 1.2 million tonnes of bauxite production following a two-week strike in May this year.