Metallurgy in Albania

MachinesTechnical ArticlesSouth-East European INDUSTRIAL Мarket - issue 4/2019 • 07.11.2019

Due to the small size of the country and the economy, Albania has been struggling to create and maintain a strong industrial sector, a recent report of the investment opportunities in the country shows. Albanian industry sectors have undergone many changes and diversification over the years.

 

“Albania’s industry began with cement plants, food processing, flour milling, cigarette making and fellmongery as dominant industries in its economy. Albania is an upper-middle-income country with an economy based on the service (54,1%), agriculture (21,7%), and industrial (24,2%) sectors. The country is rich in natural resources, and the economy is mainly bolstered by agriculture, food processing, lumber, oil, cement, chemicals, mining, basic metals, hydro power, tourism, textile industry, and petroleum extraction. The strongest sectors are energy, mining, metallurgy, agriculture and tourism. Primary industrial exports are clothing, chromium, oil and refined fuel”, the report states.

Albania has rich deposits of fossil fuels and precious metals that can turn its trade deficit around however, the country’s industry sector suffers from the unavailability of modern machinery. In 2010 Albania’s industrial production growth rate faces another decline by 4 percent however recent imports and investment in modern machinery is expected to help the economy grow. Its current and main industry sectors are food processing, textiles and clothing, lumber, oil, mining, basic metals, hydropower, cement and chemicals. Contributing to industrial production, Albania also produces agricultural products, such as corn, potatoes, wheat, sugar beets, vegetables, fruits and grapes; along with meat and dairy products.

 

Profile of the industrial production

Although Albania’s traditional trading partners are Italy, Greece, Kosovo, Turkey there are opportunities for other European and international companies. International companies operating in Albania are from Italy, Greece, Canada, the Netherlands, Austria, etc.

According to the survey “Albania economy briefing: A synopsis of Albanian industries”, published in 2019, industries in the country employ around 1/5 of the total working force. It is mainly a male dominated sector however, the trend in the past decade is declining for the male workers (from almost 28% in 2010 to 22 % in 2018) and the trend for the female workers is rising (from almost 11% in 2010 to 15% in 2018).

“This is mainly due to the emigration phenomenon, usually the first to leave the country are adult males and the vacancies created from these departures are filled by women, as the data demonstrates. Yet, the latest update of Albanian GDP accounts for around USD 13 billion, and as seen from the above, industry takes a share of 1/6 in the entire input. At this age and time, also compared to the countries nearby, industry is still lagging behind”, the survey adds. According to the latest available data introduced to the public in March 2019 by INSTAT, the separation of indicators is grouped as Industry (Mining and quarrying and Manufacturing); Electricity, Gas, Steam; Water supply; Sewerage, Waste management and Remediation activities and Construction.

In the Mining and quarrying sector there are 487 enterprises in 2018 with a total of 11 281 employees. In the range of producers of goods, manufacturing hits the majority of employees and companies, followed by construction. There is steady growth in employment rate in these two categories which can only benefit the society as whole, the report explains.

A Business register study at the end of 2018 counted 162 835 active enterprises, and it is approximately the same number as active enterprises by the end of 2017.
Albanian economy is focused mainly in trade activity as well as for new registrations. Enterprises registered during 2018 in trade activity are 23,2% out of 25% during 2017. Big enterprises with 50 and more employed represent only 1,2% of total active enterprises and their contribution on employment in 2018 is 48,1% out of 47,8% in 2017.
Municipality of Tirana territory counts the biggest number of enterprises and municipality of Fushe-Arrez the lowest ones. In 2018 there are 172 554 active local units of which 160 928 have just one location. Multi-location enterprises are 524 and represent only 1,0% of total number of active enterprises and employ 26,5% of total employment.
From the available data and the sectoral analysis of industries in Albania it is showcased that there is a positive trend of increase in production, value and income. “These are all good signs for the economy of the country as whole but also for future prospects. However, the overall portrait of this branch is not quite complete if there are two factors not taken into consideration: the cheap labour cost and the proximity to EU markets. With these comparative advantages, by 2019 Albania should have been at the forefront of (at least) small scale industries”, the research states.

The main sub-industrial sectors are listed as following: extraction sub-sector, which includes mining of different minerals like copper, iron, chromium, etc; food, beverage and tobacco sub-sector, which includes food, beverage and tobacco industries; chemical and petrochemical industry, which includes plastics, fertilizers, refineries, medicines and other industries. The list continues with: building materials sub-sector, which includes cements, limes, bricks, glass and other non-metallic product industries; metallurgy sub-sector, which includes steel, Ferro-chromium, pure copper, nickel, and aluminium products industries; other industries where are included: textile, leather, shoes, wood processing, paper, pulp, and printing, manufacturing of electric and electronic equipment and other processing industries.

 

History

Historically, Albania’s energy intensity in industrial sub-sectors has been very high. This means that the macro economic output normally denounced by the GDP, especially from industry sector has been low compared with the overall energy consumption. The reasons are the same as for the other CEE countries which have been orientated towards energy intensive industries such as mining and metallurgy, and where energy prices have been prevailing low, an extensive research of the country’s technology needs, conducted by the UNDP under the UNFCCC, shows. The ratio however varies very significantly with the sector, from as low as 7% for building materials and paper and pulp, to as high as 81% for metallurgy.

The expansion of the industrial sector, especially during the communist regime, brought economic and social progress, representing the only redemption of the country from backwardness and towards the building of a modern aspect, a research by the Albanian Epoka University found out.

“The period 1949-’61 was marked by the pact with the Soviet Union. The Russian geopolitical interests were conciliated with the need of progress of Albania. The relationship was based also on mutual trade exchange. The Soviet Union imported from Albania mineral products (chromium and copper). The cooperation also affected the state planning and management of resources and investment, in fact in Albania as in Russia were adopted the five-year plans. The 5th plan (1970-75): aimed exclusively at large metallurgical complex in Elbasan”, the study concludes.

 

The metallurgical complex of Elbasan

Elbasan is one of the most important cities of Albania. It is located in the center of the national territory and is an important crossroads, for national and international transport connection. It is situated 50 km away from Tirana. After the Second World War the city had important progress in the economy and urban development. A lot of new industries were established as food and construction factories, and an important investment was done in the so called “black metallurgy”, that transformed forever the character and economy of the city.

“Therefore, inspired from the visit of Chinese leader Cu En Lai in 1964, during the Fifth Congress of the Party of Labor of Albania, the communist leader (Enver Hoxha) promoted the erection of the metallurgical complex of Elbasan as the most important industrial complex throughout the country, part of the fourth 5-years plan (1966-1970). He stated that the giant of Albanian industry would change the fate of the country through a fast and prosperous economic growth, thanks to the financial and technical support of the Chinese friendship. So he affirmed that would represent for the Albanians the “second liberation” of the country after that one of the Second World War”, the University researchers add.

The metallurgical complex of Elbasan was promoted from the communist regime to build one of the most important industrial sites, although being one of the most ancient cities in country. To cope with the huge planned production 520 buildings were constructed, including plants, factories and an important transport network inside with railway, cable car and street infrastructure. Construction started in 1965 with the establishment of the steel rolling mill plant, in cooperation with the Chinese government. Further on, there were put into use the cement fabric, coke plant, almery, pig-iron, steel; and lastly the nickel-cobalt and the ferro-chrome plants.

 

Development and structure of the complex

The great aim of the fourth and fifth plan was to bring the metallurgic complex to a capacity of processing 800 thousand tons of iron-nickel ore a year and production of 250 thousand tons of steel, sheet metal of various dimensions, water, oil, gas conduit tubes, iron-nickel and cast iron for the foundries. This huge complex was planned not only to be self-sufficient but to serve the whole industry in the country.

The whole area of industrial plant occupies a large area of about half of the size (about 460 sq. km) of the local government territory (about 1200 sq. km). After the fall of the communist regime, a considerable part of the industrial warehouses went out of function, broke down or were left without any investment. Today and after the process of privatization (started in 1992) some parts of the complex are reused for industrial purposes, other parts are abandoned. Certain organizations in the country intend to evaluate the importance of the industrial heritage in one of the most important industrial cities of Albania in order to promote and to sensitize the institutions and the population about the importance of such areas not only historical but also social and economic. “In fact about 12 000 people have worked and passed a considerable time of their life at the site of Elbasan”, Epoka scientists confirm.

The following list presents the most important plants located in the metallurgical complex of Elbasan:

  • Mechanical Factory (since 1974).
  • Medium Foliation Factory (since 1966).
  • Fine Foliation Factory (since 1974).
  • Wire Factory.
  • Main Electrical Substation.
  • Steel lamination Factory (since 1965).
  • TEC (power plant).
  • Factory 12 (produced agglomerate and Ni concentrate).
  • Furnaces.
  • Coke Factory (since 1984).
  • Nickel-cobalt Factory (since 1981-1997).
  • Carbonaceous materials Factory (since 1976).
  • Refractory materials Factory (since 1981).
  • Ferro-chrome Factory (since 1988).
  • Sponge Factory.
  • Remount (part of Mechanical Factory).
  • Lime Factory.

 

Balfin Group and AlbChrome

Balkan Finance Investment Group is one of the largest private investment groups in Albania and the Balkans. It owns some of the largest companies in Albania. In 2013 Balfin Group acquired 100% of the shares of ACR Holding, which is now called AlbChrome. AlbChrome is the leader in the mining and metallurgy industry in Albania, the Balkans and the second largest in Europe. For more than 15 years now, the company constitutes one of the largest European chrome rich resource management companies. Assets of the company are: chrome ore mines, metallurgic plants, processing and enrichment factories, chrome concentrate factory, and other mining and metallurgy infrastructure elements, as a big part of the heavy industry facilities in Albania. The final worldwide traded product is ferrochrome high carbon and also chromite ore. Ferrochrome high carbon is produced in the plant of Elbasan which operates with two furnaces.

Albchrome shpk, was first founded in the beginning of 1991, when, with the fall of the communist regime, the path for private business and professional development of the industry in Albania, was opened and free. In 2000 important concessionary assets like mines, smelters, enrichment plants, concentrate factories etc, all part of a major chrome industry infrastructure in Albania, were given to a private company by the Parliament of Albania, by means of a concessionary agreement.

This company, at the time called DARFO, worked and exploited these concessionary assets till 2007 when an Austrian-Russian group took over the concession and formed a new company called ACR (Albanian Chrome), which signed the beginning of the technologic and industrial development of all the assets of this concession. This way, under the Austrian and Russian industrial expertise, two out of three furnaces installed in Elbasan ferro–chrome plant were refurbished and their technology was changed to provide for a higher performance and production. The Bulqiza mine also experienced a reconstruction of the whole exploitation scheme. Important investments were done for security, exploration and ore processing fields, making the company more efficient.

The report “Technology Needs Assessment for Albania”, conducted by the UNDP under the UNFCCC, studies other metal production activities in Albania.

 

Chromium production

Albania is one of the richest countries in chrome mineral sources. Quantities of 1 million tons of minerals per year have been exported. During the 70’s besides utilization of these minerals, there was built up a strong metallurgical industry through the production of ferro-chromium, firstly in Burrel and after that in Elbasan. In 1994 the Burreli metallurgy started the reconstruction of one of its melting furnaces, passing from the closed type to the opened one, intending the elaboration of the poor minerals, which in the same time decreases the possibility of an explosion and doesn’t have rigorous requests for the granular content of the first stuff. Although, the use of the opened furnaces causes less control of gas emissions from the melting zone. After 2000 the Italian company DARFO rendered the control to the mining and the industry of chromium production.

 

Iron and steel

In Albania the iron and steel sector is represented by the production of cast iron and steel. The production of cast iron began in mechanical factories for their own needs, following with steel and its production at the metallurgy complex in Elbasan in 1976. After 1994 there have been some oscillations during which the steel production started again, using as raw materials mainly scraps, both gathered in the country and imported ones. After the year 2000 the Turkish company KURUM hired the melting furnaces of steel production. In the future it is predicted to import scraps from the countries of the region.

 

Copper production

The production of copper in Albania has longstanding traditions dating since ancient times from the elaboration of copper minerals. The industrial production has started in 1943 in Rubik of Mirdita Region (a rich area with copper mineral). Afterwards in 1960 there was constructed the melting plant in Gjegjan of Kukes and then the melting plant using an electrolyze process in Lac. In metallurgical plants in Albania today classical methods are used. From the environmental point of view these methods bring high emissions of gases like CO2 and SO2 and less CO and NOx. After the 90’s the production of copper has fallen down continually.

 

Rubik copper smelter

Rubik is a mining town in the mountainous Mirdite District, Lezhe County, northwest Albania, about 10 km east of the regional capital city of Lezhe and about 90 km north of Albania’s capital Tirana. Rubik is located on the River Fani, approximately 10 km north of it’s confluence with the River Matit which provides drinking water to local inhabitants. About 2500 people live in Rubik.

In the late 1930s the copper smelting plant producing refined copper products for wiring was built in Rubik. After more than 60 years of production the factory was closed in 1998. During its more productive years, it generated approximately 30 000 tons of mineral residues annually which have been deposited in surrounding area.

 

Modernization

Since 1991 Albania has initiated a process of modernization and deindustrialization of the sites built during the communist era without a strategic plan aimed at economic conversion and then re-use of these areas, as during the transition process was difficult to defend the republic and regulate private interests. During 2000-2001 the respective national institutes of metallurgy, chemistry, light industry, wood and mechanical industry agreed to develop a couple of strategic papers for the development of each industry sector under their responsibility.

According to the aforementioned surveys, with the opening of the Albanian economy towards free market economy, accompanied by industrial restructuring, technology, process and management changes, it may be expected that Albanian energy intensities in physical output terms will tend to approach the state of the art values. “This will be a relatively slow process, however, and it seems unlikely scale of the scenario. The scenario forecasts, which also attempt to incorporate changes in product slate within each sector, vary widely with the sector end use. The strongest changes are assumed to take place in sectors, which are the most distant from current state of the art, such as glass and ceramics, metallurgy, engineering and building materials, where relative changes in energy intensity are in the order of 50 to 100%”, prospects forecast.

Rich in natural resources, Albania is a part of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in order to modernise and promote good governance of the extractive industries. As of 2016, the energy sector contributes 6% of GDP with USD 805 million government revenues. Its energy sector includes hydrocarbons (crude oil, natural gas, solid fuels), hydropower and renewable energy systems (RES), with crude oil being its primary source. “The mining sector is represented by mostly chromium and limestone contributing 55% and 31% to the domestic mining output respectively. At the same time, Albania is the only EITI implementing country to expand its EITI scope to hydropower. Domestic mining output was estimated at USD 214,1 million in 2016 (including the value added through mineral processing). Chromium contributed the largest share with about 74% of domestic mining output value. Limestone and other construction minerals represented the second largest group of minerals after chromium, with 22% of the domestic mining output value”, the country’s profile page at the EITI platform states.

 

XVIII Balkan Mineral Enrichment Congress 2019

The XVIII Balkan Mineral Enrichment Congress 2019 which took place in Albania gathered around 200 researchers, professors and academics from the mineral-mining industry, mining, geology, metallurgy, industrial chemistry and companies involved in the processing and enrichment of chromium, copper , iron-nickel, industrial minerals of Albania, the Balkans and many other countries from Europe and the wider.

The Balkan Mineral Enrichment Congresses are regularly held every two years in a 45-year history beginning in November 1973 in Varna, Bulgaria. This is the most prestigious event in the field of enrichment and processing of minerals on the Balkans. The XVIII Balkan Mineral Enrichment Congress 2019 was held at the “Premium” hotel resort Golem-Durres and provided participants and exhibitors with the opportunity to interact with national and international companies, institutions and academics in Balkan and wide-ranging enrichment and processing of minerals and to present their products and services to a wide and interested audience.

 

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