EU-funded project will help bridge the gap between different industries on the Humber Estuary.
A CITY that played a key role in the start of the English Civil War is on the brink of showing the world what can be achieved when different industries work together.
For years, industries have worked within their own sectors to improve efficiency, cut costs and help to reduce carbon emissions.
What they haven’t done is look to other energy-intensive industry sectors to see how they can work better together and, in the process, satisfy the policymakers who are squeezing industry in their pursuit of a lower carbon economy.
Now, though, they can – and they are doing it in Hull in the UK – thanks to EPOS, a four-year EU-funded project led by Greet Van Eetvelde, INEOS’ head of energy and innovation policy and professor of energy and cluster management at Ghent University, Belgium,
“EPOS has brought together scientists and entrepreneurs to help industry face a challenge,” she said. “It is a way to make industry more efficient, more cost-effective, more competitive and more sustainable.”
Over the past two years, EPOS has perfected the software to help chief engineers and plant managers within five targeted industries – chemicals, cement, steel, minerals, and engineering – to identify opportunities to make use of an industrial neighbours’ waste, side streams, assets or services.
The software enables regionally-linked businesses to share information with others about what they do, how they do it and what by-products they produce or units they have – without giving away any trade secrets.
“It started with INEOS, because we were willing to create new business opportunities for side streams,” said Greet. “We are also convinced by the potential opportunities presented by working across process industries.”
PhD students based in the UK, Switzerland, Belgium, and France have developed virtual profiles – sector blueprints – for the different process industries so that they can share a generic view of, for example, how much heat and electricity they generate, use and waste, and what resources they need.
Hélène Cervo, a research engineer and PhD student at Lavera in France, is among them.
“The EPOS project is all about thinking outside of the box to help build a more sustainable future,” she said. “To me, it is tremendously inspiring because our ultimate goal is to make a difference to people’s lives.”
She has been looking at collaborating with other different businesses at Lavera to see how energy, materials and services can be shared more efficiently.
“The blueprints will be so useful,” she said. “We already believe there are opportunities for INEOS and ArcelorMittal to work together because some of Arcelor’s gases could be energetically or chemically valorised by INEOS.”
At the launch of the EPOS project findings at Hull’s Saltend Chemicals Park, the difference that EPOS could make to INEOS and CEMEX, a cement manufacturer also on the Humber Estuary, was evident.
Currently, 80% of CEMEX’s fuel is derived from waste but it could be increased if INEOS were to provide it with part of the high-calorific waste liquid fuel that it sends to its utility provider.
The liquid fuel contains components which can potentially be separated and fed back into INEOS’ process. But the rest, which is currently treated as hazardous waste, could be used by CEMEX as a fuel to make cement.
“If that were to happen, we estimate that it could reduce carbon emissions by up to 1,400 tonnes of CO2 a year,” said Hélène. “That’s the equivalent of taking about 280 cars off the road.”
In addition to reducing CEMEX’s dependence on primary fuels by 20%, it would also improve the cement kiln operations and reduce operating expenses for both INEOS and CEMEX.
The EPOS project, which is the first of its kind, has also identified opportunities for another company on the Humber Estuary, OMYA, which produces minerals.
The chalk reject material from OMYA could be used as a raw material by CEMEX instead of limestone, and in return, provide cement kiln dust to OMYA for continuous reclamation activities in quarry operations. Since the launch, INEOS has wasted no time in seizing the initiative.
Dave Skeldon, process technology manager of INEOS manufacturing, Hull, said a non-disclosure agreement was now in place with CEMEX.
“That is always the first step towards getting there,” he said. “Then we’re moving on to resolving all the technical issues that are below the EPOS level, if you like.”
Any project will require collaboration and investment from both companies. INEOS expects to invest £900,000 on the project and break even after two years. CEMEX’s involvement and £400,000 investment should pay for itself after three years.
Stephen Elliott, CEO of the Chemical Industries Association, applauded both companies for acting swiftly.
“This is a good demonstration of the carbon and cost savings which can be achieved through industrial symbiosis in a cluster,” he said.
And he hoped the Chemical Sector Decarbonisation and Energy Efficiency Action Plan with BEIS under the industries’ Chemistry Growth Partnership will lead to further improvements, without damaging the chemical industry’s ability to compete on the world stage.
But before INEOS and CEMEX can begin their industrial symbiosis, new permits will be required because some materials, currently classified as hazardous waste, will have to be reclassified so they can be transported and re-used.
“It won’t be investments that will hamper the implementation of EPOS,” said Greet. “It will be waste legislation so we need policymakers to come with us.”
Ironically, she said, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union might help the UK to get a head start because changing legislation will be easier.
“Either way this cross-sectorial management tool presents enormous potential to improve the competitiveness and energy efficiency across the UK manufacturing sector,” she said.