Aughinish Alumina in line for 'major developments'

Aughinish Alumina in Limerick

The ultimate owner of Aughinish Alumina in Limerick has said significant investment is planned for the facility, just months after US Government sanctions threatened the future of its 450-plus jobs.

Aluminium and power producer En+ Group, the owner of Rusal, which in turn owns Aughinish, said the Limerick facility was a "major asset" of the firm, and that its strategic position meant it would be bolstered by investment over the next three years.

The firm said in its 2018 report: "It is one of the most technologically advanced and energy-efficient alumina refineries in the world, one of Europe’s largest, and a major alumina asset of the group...Major developments at Aughinish over the next three years will prepare the refinery for different bauxites whilst maintaining its reliability."

En+ said key infrastructure includes a deepwater terminal on the Shannon estuary, a bauxite ore crushing and grinding plant, a single digestion processing unit, a hydrate processing plant, several gas-fired calcination units, and a gas-fired cogeneration plant.

Last year saw a new deep cone thickener in the mud circuit which would help Aughinish to "handle the different bauxites that are expected in the coming years", En+ said.

In its annual report, En+ said the US sanctions imposed on it throughout the majority of 2018 had contributed to a "significant impact on operational results" so far this year, including aluminium sales decreasing by more than 7%.

In January, the US Treasury officially lifted sanctions on Rusal and other companies linked to controlling stakeholder Oleg Deripaska, the Russian billionaire accused of having close ties with the Kremlin.

The US imposed crippling sanctions on Mr Deripaska's business interests and halved Rusal’s value in the process in April last year.

Shares in Rusal plummeted as sanctions reverberated across the entire aluminium industry as it scrambled to restore supply chains.

Rusal controlling company En+ said Mr Deripaska’s shareholding was cut from 70% to 44.95% and his voting rights further cut to 35%.

His assets were frozen and he will not be able to receive any dividends from En+, the firm said when the sanctions were lifted in January.

The Russian firm hired House of Lords member Greg Barker to serve as chairman following its restructuring.

Mr Barker is a former climate change minister in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, before he was nominated to the Lords by David Cameron in 2015.

The months-long saga had cast a cloud over the future of Aughinish, which has been described as one of the region's best employers.

The fallout led to intense political lobbying to the White House by Irish political leaders, including Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Irish ambassador to the US, Daniel Mulhall.

A letter signed by ambassadors from Ireland, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the UK, and the EU pressed the Trump Administration on the importance of Aughinish in the global supply chain, as well as to the Limerick region.

Mr Mulhall had warned of the “unintended consequences” of the sanctions on communities such as Aughinish, with 700 direct jobs at stake and another 1,000 who depend indirectly on it.

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