Australia miner, DR Congo advance smelter to use Inga hydropower

Australia-based mining company BHP Billiton Ltd. has signed an agreement with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to pursue development of an aluminum smelter that would use power from the proposed 3,500-MW Inga 3 hydroelectric project.

Billiton said it signed an agreement with the government October 22 advancing the proposed US$3 billion smelter to be built in the western Bas-Congo Province. A Congo official said in February that Billiton was studying a bauxite deposit in Bas-Congo near the Inga project on the Congo River. (HNN 2/7/07)

“We want to build the world’s most modern aluminum smelter in the DRC and operate it according to international best practice,” Chairman Vincent Maphai of Billiton’s southern Africa unit said. “Of course, the development of the Inga 3 hydropower project and the aluminum smelter project will be demanding.”

Concept studies for both the smelter and power station have been completed and feasibility studies now are to be launched, the firm said. The smelter, envisaged to produce 800,000 tons of aluminum a year in its first phase, would use 2,000 MW from the proposed Inga 3.

In April, the DRC said it anticipated additional tendering for rehabilitation and expansion of the Inga complex including support for development studies of the proposed Inga 3. (HNN 4/16/07)

The World Bank approved a US$296.7 million grant May 29 to the DRC for rehabilitation of the Inga complex. (HNN 5/30/07) Currently, the 350-MW Inga 1 and 1,424-MW Inga 2 hydro plants produce a total of only 500 MW due to lack of maintenance. Canadian magnesium producer MagIndustries is funding a project to rehabilitate Inga units.

The Inga plants are the keystone of a proposal by DRC and its neighbors to invest up to US$40 billion to expand the Inga complex to a target capacity of 40,000 MW.

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