Saudi Arabia sets its sights on minerals


Robert Wilt, CEO, Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Ma’aden), outlines the Kingdom’s current strategy to grow a significant local extractives sector and the company’s key partnerships with international entities.

Saudi Arabia is diversifying away from oil and gas as part of its Vision 2030 national transformation program and concentrating on unlocking its economic potential – in particular its significant mineral wealth. Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Ma’aden) is leading the charge on directing investments into the mining industry in the Kingdom, which totaled $32 billion in 2022. Ma’aden’s strategy is based on the following four pillars: focusing on value by diversifying its product portfolio; leveraging Saudi Arabia’s rich mineral endowment to grow the business; updating its environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) practices to become an ESG role model; and increasing productivity by adopting new technology and innovative practices.

A Sustainable Mining Champion

Created more than 25 years ago as an offshoot of the country’s weighty hydrocarbons industry, Ma’aden has grown significantly in the last decade to have a market capitalization of around $48 billion. “We have become the world's second largest exporter of phosphates and now have the world’s lowest cost, fully integrated aluminum chain,” said Robert Wilt, CEO of Ma’aden. In 2022, the company recorded an 87% jump in annual net profits to $3.23 billion. Ma’aden currently supports around 6,800 direct employees and 45,000 indirect jobs, and produces around 6 million tons of phosphate fertilizer per annum. As the government works to attract international partners, Ma’aden’s CEO views incoming players as key collaborators in the company’s growth. “We know the stakeholders and the landscape, and we have done most of the legwork,” said Wilt. “We are the partner of choice.”

“The world requires the mining industry to achieve its energy transition and move towards green energy.”

In January 2023, Ma’aden and US-based Ivanhoe Electric teamed up to establish a 50:50 joint venture to explore around 48,500 square kilometers of untouched resources using the company’s proprietary Typhoon technology. According to Wilt, the partner’s equipment will grant a sixfold increase in the speed of Ma’aden’s current exploration activities. Additionally, the company signed a deal with American-Australian consultancy Worley and Morocco’s JESA International to provide engineering, procurement, construction and management of an integrated complex at Wa’ad Al Shamal and Ras Al-Khair industrial cities for $278 million. Ma’aden plans to build a 1.5-million-tonne greenfield phosphate complex as part of its Phosphate 3 project, which involves raising production of phosphate fertilizer to 8 million tons per year by 2027. The first phase of the project is expected to be complete by 2025 and the second by 2027. Additionally, Ma’aden signed two deals with Canadian mining entity Barrick Gold Corporation in January 2023 to advance exploration of the Jabal Sayid South and Umm Ad Damar mining concessions. The two companies have previously worked on developing the neighboring Jabal Sayid mine, Saudi Arabia’s sole copper asset located around 350 kilometers north-east of Jeddah.

While heavy investments are being made to enhance local production, Ma’aden is also focused on expanding its international footprint, with a global concentration on iron ore, nickel, copper and lithium. In January 2023, the company launched a joint venture alongside Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which plans to make significant investments in overseas assets.

As part of its growth strategy, the Saudi mining giant is putting a sharp focus on sustainability, with a set goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. In November 2022, the company signed a 20-year contract with Emirati gas provider Gulf Cyro to build a carbon capture project in Ras Al Khair that will capture 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. The first phase of the project is expected to come on line by 2024. At the same time, the company has begun the export of blue ammonia, with the first shipment sent to South Korea at the end of 2022. “The world requires the mining industry to achieve its energy transition and move towards green energy,” said Wilt. “However, to do so we need to double the amount of copper we are mining in the next decade and produce five times as much aluminum in the next 15 years.”