Aluminium production at the smelter in Fort William will nearly double under £94 million expansion plans announced by its owner today.
Up to 70 new jobs are anticipated for the site under a business blueprint that includes a new recycling and casting facility, as well as tentative plans for a new water canning facility.
Some 20-25 jobs are expected to be created over the next three years in the initial expansion.
But there is no room in the wider business plan for alloy car wheel production – an idea that has been pursued since 2016, when the smelter was rescued from possible closure through its sale to metals entrepreneur Sanjeev Gupta’s international GFG Alliance group.
The wheel plan, expected to create 300 jobs via a £120m investment in equipment, has now been officially shelved.
Brian King, chairman of Alvance British Aluminium (ABA), the GFG subsidiary which owns the smelter, said automotive industry woes meant that particular project was no longer “right for us”.
He did not rule it out but added the company “certainly won’t be doing it in the foreseeable future”.
Today’s expansion news, which Mr King said “ticks all the boxes”, comes four months after ABA said it was axing up to 18 jobs at the site.
At the time, it said the move was necessary to protect the long-term future of the plant, with the Covid-19 crisis and uncertainty around post-Brexit trade talks compounding a “difficult commercial environment” for its product.
Aluminium output is now expected to rocket to 80,000 tonnes a year, from just over 40,000t.
The facility will produce long, round shapes, or billets, for the UK construction sector, which relies heavily on imports.
To support the expansion ABA is also proposing significant upgrades to the nearby port of Corpach to speed up material flow.
With smelting processes already powered by GFG Alliance’s zero-emission hydro-electric power, the addition of recycling and expansion into “sustainably produced” billets is expected to give ABA a competitive advantage as demand for “green” aluminium grows.
Proposals will be submitted to Highland Council for approval and to formally replace the previously announced plan for an alloy wheels factory.
If approved, ABA’s new business plan and associated developments are expected to secure the long-term future of the smelter, safeguarding nearly 200 existing jobs.
Subject to approvals and any further impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, ABA aims to start the new development in 2021 and is targeting full operation by 2024. GFG Alliance is also tabling plans for a new water canning facility, located next to the Fort William plant.
Mr Gupta, the group’s executive chairman, said: “The transformation plan we’re announcing today underlines our commitment to investing in Scotland. 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.”
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “We will work with Alvance to consider the new business plan and to secure the earliest possible investment in the Fort William complex.”