Building & Construction, Chemicals & Petrochemicals, Environmental Technology, News

Good – But Not Easy – Being Green

The grandeur of Norway's natural scenery, from fjords to forests, is perhaps the country's greatest tourist attraction. But even the hardiest and most enthralled visitor will probably be startled by the native enthusiasm for the great outdoors, with citizens of...

This deeply rooted love of nature often translates into a militant defence of the environment, and even if industry is often unavoidably at odds with ecology, you don’t have to scratch too deep before you can convince local big business of the benefits of doing their best to be green.

In the spring of 2004, Norway’s Minister of the Environment Børge Brende reached an agreement with the Federation of Norwegian Process Industries (PIL) to ensure great reductions in the industrial emission of greenhouse gases. While the pact ensures that Norwegian emissions will reduce to Kyoto Protocol levels, the competitive needs of the industries were factored into the equation. In short, it’s a win-win situation.

Dropping Bad Habits…

According to the agreement, greenhouse gases from the process industries – with the exception of gas refineries and landing – will be reduced by 20% by 2007, compared to 1990. Taking into account the production increases in Norway’s process industries, the reduction is actually around 31%. The aluminium industry is a particular success story, going from sinner to saint in record time.

Norwegian smelteries for Hydro and Elkem had been notable eco-villains, but in the course of the 1990s emissions were reduced from 5.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalents (a measure of the combined effect of greenhouse gases, one CO2 equivalent being equal to the emission of 1 kg of CO2) per produced tonne  of aluminium, to 2.4 tonnes in the year 2000.

In the course of 2004 this result will be reduced to 2 tonnes, making Norwegian levels about half of the worldwide country average of 3.8 tonnes per tonne produced. At the same time, production has increased by 71%; the aluminium industry has achieved these impressive numbers thanks to a combination of improved efficiency and investment in green technology. Norway’s process industries are also “cleaner” than most facilities abroad since they are often powered by hydroelectric energy.

GREENHOUSE GASES – The six greenhouse gases are:
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
Methane (CH4)
Nitrous oxide (N2O)
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)

…And Picking Up Good Ones

Elkem’s relatively pure raw silicon process won praise from environmental watchdog Bellona as early as in 1999, when the metals firm joined research forces with solar energy specialist ScanWafer to develop a method of further refining the silicon to purity levels needed in solar cells. This project also pooled the skills of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), scientific and industrial research foundation SINTEF, and the Research Council of Norway, as well as other solar power business interests.

Hydro’s environmental efforts have earned it listings on both the Dow Jones Sustainability Group Index and the FTSE4Good socially responsible investment index. Hydro Aluminium’s expertise in remelting and recycling have provided the company with an increasingly effective method of producing quality products from scrap, and the company’s remelting uses only 5% of the energy needed to produce primary aluminium.

Hydro Polymers, which produces environmentally unpopular PVC (polyvinyl chloride), participates in Vinyl 2010, the European PVC industry’s 10-year plan to improve production processes and products, minimize emissions and waste, and boost collection and recycling. Hydro Polymers also collaborates with the international think tank TNS (The Natural Step), which works to achieve sustainability through a cooperation of science and industry. Sustainability is more than a hot environmental catchword, it is also basic business sense – you don’t want to exhaust your raw materials.

Out of the Woods

Norway’s wood processing industry, led by Norske Skog, has also made across-the-board improvements, including improving traceability routines to ensure the use of raw materials from certified, sensibly sustained forest; using over four times more recycled materials; and increasing energy recovery from production-created waste.

Norske Skog uses organic waste as biofuel. The ash produced is used in cement production and landfills. Its Pisa operation in Brazil cooperates with a company to convert landfill sludge into agricultural fertilizer. New plantations in Brazil devote 40% of their area to native forest development, twice the national requirement. Ten of Norske Skog’s 14 wholly owned mills had ISO 14001 environmental management certificates by 2003, and all of the mills are set to be cleared in 2004.

Hurum Fabrikker was reborn in 2003 as a concern turning return fibre from drink cartons into quality recycled paper. The government stepped in with measures to revive the company after its bankruptcy in 2002, adjusting regulations to allow for an annual duty relaxation of 25% and pledging to increase state demand for recycled paper products.

Borregaard’s wood processing chemical product lignin indirectly benefits the environment by its widespread use in concrete. This usage helps reduce the amount of CO2 produced by cement production.

Borregaard’s new sulphur dioxide (SO2) plant in Sarpsborg in the southeastern tip of the country is due to open before the end of 2004 soon. The operation will be based on liquid sulphur being burnt to form SO2 gas that will be used in production, and the heat generated will also be used in production processes. This doesn’t sound environmentally friendly, but there will be no emissions or discharges – everything the plant produces will be used in industrial processes. It is precisely this type of technological and efficiency upgrade that is most appealing, where environmental efforts make an immediately visible impact on a company’s bottom line. Borregaard needs schemes to create energy more than other wood processing companies since it uses virtually every component of timber to create its products.

Waste to Wash

Kemira Chemicals is another surprising story of putting a waste product to good use. In 1979 the company started up with the concept of using the by-product iron sulphate produced by neighbouring Kronos Titan, one of the world’s largest producers of titanium dioxide. The refined iron sulphate would be used to purify water.

Now Kemira produces chemicals that purify local drinking water as well as cleanse effluent from sewage systems and wood processing plants. Kemira is a study in recycling technology. Today, about 60% of the raw materials used in Kemira production are by-products or waste products from other companies. Kemira also creates products to treat the sludge cleansed from sewer systems into agricultural fertilizer.

Though there can be little doubt that the process industries are making real environmental efforts and improving, not everything is rosy. For example, Elkem currently believes that it is not economically possible to improve significantly the current level of emissions per unit of metal produced in the ferro-alloy industry. To achieve further progress, technological breakthroughs are needed.

And so, as in the rest of the process industries, the emphasis faces forward. Research and development holds the key to finding ways to improve production, while at the same time preserving the natural resources that make the whole adventure possible.

good220x159.jpg (28340 bytes)Half the cement produced in the world today is treated and improved by lignin, hereby reducing the CO2 output from the cement industry. Lignin is utilized in some of the world’s most impressive modern structures, including the two examples pictured here: the 452-metre-high Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the Oresund Bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark.good400x268.jpg (68674 bytes)