Citing increased global demand for alumina, Alcan president and CEO Travis Engen says the company saw “a very attractive growth opportunity” that will “sustain our ability to serve our customers in key growing markets”.

The expansion of the Gove operations in north-east Arnhem Land will increase its annual alumina capacity from 2 million tonnes to 3.5 million tonnes by 2007 and boost Australia’s exports by about $450m a year.

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Australia’s minister for industry, tourism and resources, Ian Macfarlane, says: “The Gove refinery is one of the largest industries in the Northern Territory and a major contributor to its economy. Alcan has been in the Top End [region] for more than 30 years, demonstrating a longstanding commitment to the Gove operation and local community.”

The decision to expand was taken in September and follows the Northern Territory government’s approval of the project’s environmental impact statement in July. According to company spokesman Corey Copeland, the investment will also increase operating and environmental performance. Alcan has made public commitments to maintain high social and environmental standards, and to work with the local indigenous community.

Construction was expected to start before the end of 2004 and the company hopes that the expanded facilities will be fully operational by 2007. The project is expected to create about 1700 jobs during peak construction, followed by the creation of about 120 permanent jobs.