A group of Australian companies is exporting the impossible — they are selling sand to Saudi Arabia.
The construction boom in the desert nations of the Middle East has created a demand for raw materials, and the region has become a new export destination for Australian businesses.
Perth's GMA Garnet will this month send a shipment of heavy mineral sand to Saudi Arabia for sandblasting, a high-pressure technique to smooth and clean hard surfaces in buildings.
Managing director Torsten Ketelsen said the special alluvial sand is suited for sandblasting because it is free of silica, which creates dust that can cause lung cancer and silicosis in workers.
"The Australian garnet sand that we are exporting has unique characteristics including very high hardness and durability which is perfect as an industrial abrasive and for ultra-high pressure water-jet cutting applications," Ketelsen said.
The company has set up its bulk handling and reprocessing plants in Jebel Ali and more recently in Jubail, in Saudi Arabia.
Austrade estimates exports to the Middle East region more than tripled since 1991 from $1.4 billion to $4.7 billion, and are continuing to grow.
Senior Trade Commissioner for Saudi Arabia, Garry Kennedy, said Australians were having great success, largely in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, by creating a point of difference with products.
"There are great opportunities for exporters from a diverse range of industries in the Middle East and North Africa," Kennedy said.
"Today, there are almost 3,500 Australian exporters doing business with the Middle East, with over 1,700 Australian businesses exporting to the UAE alone."
Another firm selling a sand-based product to the desert region is NT Prestressing, which has a type of concrete that can be laid quickly, speeding up building.
That concrete is being put to the test on the world's tallest building, the Burj tower in Dubai, 1,535-feet-tall late last week and set to reach 2,625 feet.
The development set a new world record for vertical concrete pumping by pumping concrete up to 1,509 feet, beating the previous record in Taipei, for the 1,670-foot-tall 101 tower.
NT Prestressing Managing Director Tom Wilson said although the company has been operating in the area for more than a decade, the Burj building is a very exciting project to have secured.
"The Burj building is an international beacon for excellence. The owners have openly declared that they have sought only the best international expertise and materials and we were very honored to have been included in this select group."