The world's largest solar-powered steam plant will be built in Saudi Arabia

To help decarbonize the energy-intensive aluminum production.
Derya Ozdemir
Ma’aden Solar IGlassPoint

MA’ADEN, a Saudi Arabian mining company, and GlassPoint, a U.S.-based solar energy solutions provider, have inked an initial deal to build the world's largest solar-powered steam plant at the former's refinery.

The aim? To aid in the decarbonization of the energy-intensive, coal-dependent process of producing aluminum, which ends up in our cell phones, computers, automobiles, and other products.

The new facility will help the mining company reduce its carbon emissions by approximately 600,000 tons per year, according to Arab News.

In progress: MA’ADEN Solar 1

The new solar thermal plant, MA’ADEN Solar 1, will be located in Ras al Khair, Saudi Arabia, and will harness the power of the sun to generate steam. As part of the deal, GlassPoint will supply MA’ADEN with industrial solar steam, which will be used to make aluminum at a bauxite refinery. 

"The steam will be used to refine bauxite ore into alumina. Alumina is a critical feedstock to aluminum, which is one of the world’s most crucial metals for many global industries going into a future that is focused on environment and sustainability," senior vice president of MA’ADEN’s aluminum business Riyadh Al Nassar said

Most refineries use coal or gas to boil the water for the steam that goes into refining bauxite, the first step in making aluminum. In comparison, GlassPoint will utilize big curved mirrors hanging inside greenhouses to reflect sunlight onto pipes, so the water inside can boil and create steam.

The world's largest solar-powered steam plant will be built in Saudi Arabia
Source: GlassPoint

"When people hear solar, you naturally think solar panels making electricity," Rod MacGregor, CEO and founder of GlassPoint, said to Fast Company. "But in this particular case, when the end-user needs heat, it’s much more efficient to go straight from sunlight to heat."

The world's largest industrial solar steam plant

And, once the new 1,500-megawatt solar thermal facility at the company’s refinery is complete, the solar-generated steam will replace half of the fossil-fired steam currently used by the refinery by reducing carbon emissions by more than 600,000 tons annually, helping the mining company achieve its sustainability goals.

"This facility when built will be the largest industrial solar steam plant in the world and the first deployed in both Saudi Arabia and in the aluminum supply chain," MacGregor said, as reported by Arab News.

As these two companies work together to develop a more sustainable business model, the tides are changing for the entire industry, too. For example, Apple has been collaborating with Rio Tinto and Alcoa, two big aluminum suppliers, to showcase a new carbon-free smelting method that emits oxygen rather than CO2, playing a crucial role in a venture that could significantly change global manufacturing.

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