Chinese-owned alumina plant in Jamaica aims for monthly exports

The JISCO Alpart refinery in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO), the Chinese entity that owns and operates the Alpart refinery in Jamaica, is aiming to upgrade the plant and increase its capacity to facilitate the exportation of a minimum one shipment of alumina every month.

Assistant Managing Director of JISCO Alpart Jamaica, Sun Jing, disclosed that the company has already spent US$150 million to overhaul the plant in order to commence production that will lead to them attaining the target this year.

The company has already been able to export two shipments of alumina in just over six months.

“I think we are lucky to have had the first shipment by the end of last year, and the end of February was (when we had) the second shipment of alumina. So far, the operation has already gone to a higher level, so we will have enough eventually to arrange at least one shipment per month,” he indicated.

The JISCO executive noted, however, that the outdated facilities in the southwestern parish of St Elizabeth present some challenges with respect to getting the plant fully operational.

“We have to engage more persons to help us to run this plant. So although it probably needs 600-700 persons to operate, we have employed almost 900 Jamaicans for maintenance, operations and other relevant activities,” he said.

He emphasized that modification and upgrade of the process are imperative in order to maintain the operation.

“Until then, we just keep going…although some of the (input) costs are very high, like oil and caustic soda. So to survive for the long-term, we need to do the expansion as quickly as possible,” Sun said, although the stressed that full modification and upgrading would take time.

“When you finish the design, then you will have to begin the procurement process to buy equipment and do the installation. For the new equipment to be commissioned takes about one year,” he explained.

He assured, however, that JISCO is committed to keeping the facility’s operations going until the modification and upgrading project is completed.

“Then we will have a chance to finish the new learning curve to bring this Alpart plant to the two million-tonne capacity per year.”

A framework agreement has been signed between the Government of Jamaica and JISCO to undertake major improvement works at the plant and at Port Kaiser. This includes expansion of the existing refinery and construction of a new alumina plant; construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) power plant; and the creation of a Special Economic Zone.

Sale of the Alpart plant to JISCO and its subsequent reopening have been credited for significantly contributing to a 15 per cent growth in Jamaica’s mining sector over the October to December quarter of 2017.