Demand for Aluminum in the GCC: At an All-Time High

Aluminum is not only ubiquitous but also the third most abundant element in the earth’s crust and most commonly found with oxygen, silicon and fluorine. Aluminum, in its elemental nature, has distinctive properties. It is a highly reactive and recyclable element and can be used for various purposes. It is significantly low in density and much lower in weight if compared to other metals like Zinc, Copper, Lead and Tin. A watershed moment arrived during its “discovery period”, as per the metallurgy experts. It was first brought to public knowledge by an English Chemist Humphry Davy who, in 1808, discovered that aluminum could be produced by electrolytic reaction from alumina or aluminum oxide (Al2O3) which is colorless crystalline now frequently used for smelting of aluminum metal. He, however, failed to prove it in laboratory for real-life purposes. Later on, various electromechanical methods were employed to produce Aluminum which enhanced its usefulness encompassing most of the industry sectors. Electromechanical methods to produce Aluminum have led to its exponential consumption worldwide.  

Global growth curve

Over the past couple of centuries, the production of Aluminum gained momentum worldwide. Global aluminum production amounted to 28 thousand tons during the period 1890-1899. It surpassed 271 thousand tons by 1930. In the middle of the twentieth century, global aluminum production amounted to 1 million tons a year, and in 1973 – 10 million tons. These trends persisted in the following decades, and in 2014, production volumes exceeded 55 million tons. It is expected to amount to 60 million tons in 2016, as per a report recently published by Aluminum Leader. The global aluminum industry is forecast to reach an estimated USD160 billion in 2017 with a CAGR of 5.3 percent over the next five years (2012-2017). Increasing application, growing environmental concerns, and the move toward greater use of recyclable materials are driving growth in the worldwide aluminum market, as per a research study conducted by Lucintel. As per verifiable reports published recently, the aluminum production is expected to amount to 60 million tons in 2016 with China taking the lead followed by Russia, Canada and the UAE.

“Aluminum industry in the GCC is growing by 8.4 percent annually compared to global average growth rate of 3.7 percent per annum”

Gulf market

Resource galore, wider applications of technologies, world class road infrastructure, business friendly industrial policies have set the pace of world class aluminum production in the region which is now home to some of the world’s largest aluminum smelters. With substantial growth in construction & infrastructure, manufacturing and utilities activities in the region – the demand for aluminum is not only surging but also at an all-time high in the GCC. As per a study conducted by Gulf Aluminum Council, the collective output of primary aluminum by the five GCC producers — Emirates Global Aluminum in UAE, Alba in Bahrain, Ma’aden Aluminum in Saudi Arabia, Qatalum in Qatar and Sohar Aluminum in Oman — stood at 5.26 million tons in 2015. Aluminum industry in the GCC is growing by 8.4 percent annually compared to global average growth rate of 3.7 percent per annum. Mahmood Daylami, Secretary General of Gulf Aluminum Council says, “GCC Aluminum production contributes majorly to revenue generation and pegged at 10 percent of the total world production. As a major economic driver of the region, 40 percent of the total aluminum production is utilized by the downstream aluminum industries in the Gulf and 60 percent of the total production is exported to different parts of the world.”

Future outlook

A sharp downswing in oil & gas prices has opened a plethora of doors to other industries to flourish and strongly position themselves in the GCC. Governments started to diversify the economy with a view to global financial melt-down to ensure region’s economic growth is not inflicted. Economic diversification plan has given a boost to its bright prospects. There are several other reasons which equally contribute to its positive prospects in the GCC. Aluminum is a versatile metal and can be easily recycled. As per the industry experts, 8 m tons of aluminum is recycled every year which is later processed further to form aluminum alloys to meet the growing needs of the local and international needs of automobile, food and beverage and packaging industries. Moreover, Aluminum is added with other elements like Zinc, Copper and Magnesium to form aluminum alloys. These elements boost up the strength of the alloy to be used in various industries cutting across industrial profiles and nature of activities. Furthermore, the construction landscape of the GCC is peppered with architecturally superb buildings clad in combination with Aluminum, Glass, Stones and Marbles to give it more appeal, durability and increase fire resisting capability with a view to minimizing the dangers to human lives, properties and environment. Construction industry is one of the biggest gainers among manufacturing, pipeline, automobile and service industries where the aluminum doors, windows, curtains and claddings are considerably used. Due to these advantages, the white metal is the metal of future and considered to be a prerequisite for the industrialization plan of the region’s governments.

Mohammed Sharique Anwar