Lochaber smelter set for £94M investment after ditching alloy wheels project

The new proposals replace plans to build an alloy wheels plant adjacent to the smelter in Fort William, pictured. NO F47 Lochaber smelter and hydro-electric plant aerial

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Aluminium production at the Lochaber smelter is to be nearly doubled and up to 70 new jobs created under an alternative £94M business blueprint that involves ditching the previously approved scheme to build an alloy wheels plant in Fort William.

Alvance Aluminium, a member of Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, announced this week its intention to invest in a new recycling and casting facility that will take aluminium production at its Fort William plant from just over 40,000 tonnes per annum to 80,000 tonnes.

The new facility will produce long, round shapes, known as ‘billets’, for the domestic construction sector which currently relies heavily on imports.

GFG Alliance says with current smelting processes already powered by zero emission hydro-electric power, the new addition of aluminium recycling and expansion into downstream billets will allow it to manufacture some of the most sustainably produced billets in the world, giving it a competitive advantage as the demand for green aluminium grows.

A significant decline in the UK automotive industry is being blamed for the demise of the alloy wheels plant project and that was intended to directly create around 400 new jobs.

The new proposals will now be submitted to the Highlands Council for approval and, if approved, the company says the new integrated business plan and associated developments will secure the long-term future of the Fort William aluminium smelter, safeguarding 200 local jobs and creating 70 new ‘high quality roles’.

Subject to approvals and any further impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Alvance aims to commence the new development works in 2021 and target full operation by 2024.

Mr Gupta, GFG Alliance Executive Chairman, said the transformation plan underlined his company’s commitment to investing in Scotland and its belief in the bright future of what it calls ‘Green Aluminium’.

Sanjeev Gupta, Exec Chair GFG, with Paul Wheelhouse MSP above the Lochaber Smelter. PICTURE IAIN FERGUSON, THE WRITE IMAGE
Sanjeev Gupta, Exec Chair GFG, with Paul Wheelhouse MSP above the Lochaber Smelter. PICTURE IAIN FERGUSON, THE WRITE IMAGE

According to Mr Gupta, recycling aluminium saves 95 percent of the energy needed to produce primary aluminium and is a key part of GFG’s CN30 mission to be carbon neutral by 2030.

‘By utilising domestic scrap aluminium that is currently exported, we will nearly double production here at Fort William,’ he added.

‘These investments will make us more competitive and will deliver a higher value product in the form of billet for construction to domestic and export markets. The new facilities, alongside the Lochaber hydro plant, will create market-leading Green Aluminium products that deliver for the environment as well as the economy.’

Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, commented: ‘The Scottish Government is committed to working with Alvance Aluminium to secure the long-term future of the Fort William smelter, grow output and employment through investment in downstream manufacturing capability.

‘We will work with Alvance to consider the new business plan and to secure the earliest possible investment in the Fort William complex.’

Brian King, chairman of Alvance British Aluminium said: ‘I’m very pleased to be putting these plans forward which will provide a long-term future for our Fort William operations. S

‘Since putting forward our original plans for a wheels factory the automotive industry has gone through significant decline in the UK.  Fortunately, the construction industry is buoyant and is using ever more aluminium billet giving us the chance to produce a quality product making use of primary metal from the smelter and recycled scrap.

‘There will be opportunities for local firms to be involved in the construction of the new facilities and new job opportunities for local people.’

In a new venture for the group, GFG Alliance is also tabling plans for a new water canning facility, located next to the Fort William plant, to package Scottish Highlands water into reusable aluminium cans to provide an alternative to plastic bottles for sale to the UK and international market.