Saudi Arabia is seeking to attract SR637.7bn ($170bn) worth of investment in the mining industry by 2030 to help the country capitalise on its wealth of mineral resources, the total value of which is estimated to exceed SR4.88trn ($1.3trn), according to figures from the government. Global demand for minerals is likely to increase as the energy transition accelerates, with minerals a key component in the production of many clean energy technologies.
To prepare for this rise in demand, Bandar Alkhorayef, the minister of industry and mineral resources, announced a target of attracting SR120bn ($32bn) of investment in nine mining and minerals sector projects over the next few years. Such investments would support the national goal of making the mining sector the third pillar of industry in the Kingdom.
Strategic aims for the sector include enacting structural reforms, increasing exploration, developing infrastructure, creating an exhaustive resource database and increasing licensing efficiency to spur private sector investment. The strengthening of the mining and mineral processing sector should also contribute to growth in other industrial sectors, increasing Saudi Arabia’s competitiveness through the localisation of industrial supply chains.
Alkhorayef called attention to two of the nine investment projects in particular. The first is a steel plate factory to be located in the Ras Al Khair Industrial City on Saudi Arabia’s eastern coast, some 60 km north of Jubail and owned by Saudi mining company Ma’aden. The SR15bn ($4bn) steel plant will supply the King Salman International Complex for Maritime Industries and Services, a 12-sq-km shipyard under development in Ras Al Khair. The shipyard is expected to be operational before the end of 2022, and will comprise seven dry docks, basins, piers, ship lifts, and other necessities such as workshops and facilities for shipbuilding and repair, as well as the manufacturing of offshore rigs.
The second project he highlighted is a factory for electric vehicle (EV) batteries. In April 2022 the government signed an agreement to purchase 50,000-100,000 EVs over 10 years from the Lucid Group. The US-based Lucid Group is majority owned by the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund. Similar to the steel factory, the project aims to contribute to the development of the midstream supply chain for an emerging industry. Copper is one of the leading metals produced by Saudi Arabia’s mining industry, with annual production reaching 75,400 tonnes in 2020, and is one of the main mineral components of EV batteries.
Other components in the production of EV batteries include graphite, aluminium, nickel, steel, manganese, cobalt, lithium and iron. The Kingdom has plans for facilities to produce aluminium and steel sheets, and to refine copper and zinc.
Other projects in the pipeline include the exploitation of the Khnaiguiyah, Umm Al Damar and Muhaddad mining sites. Musad Abdulaziz Aldaood, deputy minister for mining development, sought to garner investor interest in these projects at an investor roadshow in London in June 2022. In August 2022 three finalists were announced to bid for the exploration rights for Khnaiguiyah, a 353-sq-km zinc and copper field located 170 km from Riyadh and the first of the three to be auctioned.
The three finalists – all consortia – shed some light on the sources of investment for Saudi Arabia’s broader mining development plans: Alara Resources (Australia) and Al Tasnim Enterprises (Oman); Ivanhoe Electric (US) and Ma’aden (Saudi Arabia); and Moxico Resources (UK) and Ajlan & Bros Mining Company (Saudi Arabia). While local investment from private as well as government organisations is expected to contribute to exploiting untapped mineral reserves, foreign investment from destinations such as Australia, Oman, the UK and the US will also be important.
Overall strategy for the development of the minerals and mining sector is guided by the National Industrial Development and Logistics Programme (NIDLP). NIDLP is a five-year plan under the umbrella of Vision 2030, focused on industry, logistics, mining and energy. It aims to foster private sector participation in these sectors and contribute to economic diversification by increasing local content in Saudi Arabia’s manufacturing supply chains and leveraging Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, with the target of making the Kingdom a global centre for industry and logistics. The programme recognises the need for a more conducive environment to attract private sector investment, and the importance of developing the underlying infrastructure for industry to thrive and promoting value addition related to natural resources.
The plan to attract investment in minerals and mining projects aligns with the broader objectives of NIDLP. The projects target private investment to harness local mineral resources by bolstering established downstream and midstream value-added industries. While investors in Khnaiguiyah, Umm Al Damar and Muhaddad will be entitled to sell to any local buyer of their choice, the projects are seen as essential for strengthening downstream local zinc and copper processing. As such, regulatory policy will encourage supplying downstream Saudi industries through royalty discounts.
The Kingdom is also leveraging infrastructure and enabling logistics by clustering these projects together so business can benefit from this proximity. The steel plate factory will be built in the same industrial city as the shipyard that it will supply.
Through the Saudi Green Initiative, the Kingdom aims to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2060 and reduce emissions from 2016 levels by at least 278m tonnes per annum by 2030. Speaking at the launch of the Saudi Green Initiative Forum in October 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said, “The Saudi Green Initiative will provide huge investment opportunities for the private sector, quality job opportunities for the next generation of leaders in the Kingdom, and enhanced international relationships that will have a positive impact on the region and the world.”
The mining and mineral processing industries have a key supporting role to play in the energy transition. Onshore wind farms can require nine times more mineral resources than a conventional plant burning gas, while EVs demand six times more than traditional vehicles. As increasing concern about climate change drives the adoption of clean energy solutions, global reliance on minerals will increase. Given that mining and other heavy industries can have negative environmental impacts, investors in these industries will need to ensure that the environmental benefits of their activities are not outweighed by the costs.
The nine investment projects are set to have a positive impact on other established industries in Saudi Arabia. The Ras Al Khair steel plate plant will feed into the King Salman International Complex for Maritime Industries and Services. Despite recent geopolitical volatility and the nearshoring and localisation trends spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, the world tradeto-output ratio remains near an all-time high and maritime shipping should continue to see strong growth. Investment in this area will allow Saudi industrial expansion to benefit from these trends in global demand. Each step in the value chain that is established locally creates new demand for suppliers, products and services, as well as employment opportunities. Indeed, Alkhorayef estimated that the nine projects will create more than 14,500 jobs. Such positive figures are expected to support Saudi Arabia’s economic diversification over the long term as it advances towards its broader Vision 2030 aims.