In the past ten years, the voestalpine Group spent some EUR 400 million on investment projects having a clearly allocable environmental impact. While environmental investments in the business year 2018/19 had risen to EUR 66.2 million in both the Steel Division and the High Performance Metals Division, they declined to EUR 35.0 million in the reporting period.
Cumulative, in millions of euros
Despite shrinking investments owing to the difficult economic environment overall, the voestalpine Group brought important environmental and climate mitigation projects to fruition in the past business year also, especially regarding resource conservation, reductions in process-related emissions, and improvements in hydrological circuits.
The Steel Division, for example, focused its ambitious environmental program on the implementation of measures serving to lower the use of coke, natural gas, blast furnace gas (BFG), and power from electrical sources. It also implemented processes that make the utilization of water for cooling purposes more efficient. At its plant in Linz, Austria, a number of steps were taken to reduce dust accumulations.
Legacy pollution clean-up project at coking plant
The work at Austria’s largest legacy pollution clean-up project on the grounds of the former coking plant in Linz that has already been ongoing for the past ten years continued apace. Hot spots (i.e., highly contaminated soil representing legacy pollution dating back to World War II) in the area of the former tank warehouses were removed. A state-of-the-art funnel & gate system prevents pollutants from being carried away via the groundwater.
The current investment activities of the High Performance Metals Division are focused on its new special steel plant in Kapfenberg, Austria, which is slated to start up in 2021 and will set ecological standards with respect to energy efficiency, heat recovery, and wastewater recycling.
The “environmentally optimized staining” project at the same site that has a volume of about EUR 16 million was completed in the business year 2019/20. The newly built, fully automated salt bath and tunneled pickling system for chemically treating wire rod and drawn special steel wire is equipped with a next-generation exhaust air and wastewater treatment unit. This enables significant improvements in air, wastewater, and waste emissions; boosts resource efficiency; and lowers employees’ health risks. Acid vapor is treated via exhaust air scrubbers, and a regeneration unit cuts down the consumption of acid. Both the cascading rinse water structure and the regeneration of acid reduce the amount of slurry from the wastewater cleaning facility that must be classified as hazardous waste.
Moreover, the new wastewater treatment unit significantly lowers the concentration of emissions as well as the volume of wastewater. Finally and not least, the redesigned facility allows employees to carry out their activities without having to be in the immediate vicinity of the acid baths.
Renaturing the waste disposal site
The project to redirect the Lanzgraben creek on the premises of the company’s Kapfenberg plant was completed in the business year 2019/20. This water body flowed on the north side of two waste disposal sites, cut through the waste disposal site at the funicular, and occasionally overflowed its banks due to strong overgrowth. A renaturing project was launched in 2017 as part of the preparatory work for the construction of the new special steel plant. The clean excavation material from the construction site—about 700,000 tons or some 350,000 m3 in toto—was used to reroute the creek. The area was straightened, and the creek was redirected around the funicular waste disposal site to its original course. In addition, a retaining pool with a volume of 12,000 m3 was created to prevent flooding in the future. Several amphibian pools were built, numerous trees and shrubs planted along the creek, and embankments created. Over a period of some two years, these activities created a large nature area in the middle of the waste site.
During the reporting period, the Metal Engineering Division also focused on further improvements in resource efficiency and on sustainably effective energy-related measures. At the division’s largest facility (Donawitz, Austria), a comprehensive efficiency program in the company’s own power plant makes it possible to boost the efficiency of its capacity to generate energy from by-product gases by up to 20 GWh/year. Additional technical measures reduce the energy required to operate the power generation unit by some 6,000 MWh annually. A new waste gas blower that also consumes a lot less electricity thanks to its greater efficiency was taken into operation in March 2020. Furthermore, the division’s production companies made comprehensive investments to optimize cooling and wastewater systems and, in part, to modernize the operational buildings’ thermal systems.
Zeltweg facility: CO2 Neutral for the past ten years
The company’s turnout technology plant in Zeltweg, Austria, achieves high environmental standards and has been CO2 neutral for ten years thanks to extensive energy saving and efficiency measures, the use of renewables such as waste heat and district heating from biomass as well as the facility’s own hydroelectric power plant. Current plans include projects aimed at further reducing energy consumption levels such as the complete conversion of the factory floor heating systems to CO2-neutral district heating and replacing the forklifts that are operated using natural gas with electric vehicles. Some 40% of the still remaining direct CO2 emissions, which so far were more than offset by excess electricity from the facility’s own hydroelectric power plant, can be cut via this approach.
The Metal Forming Division, for its part, also took steps at a number of its sites to continue boosting its energy and resource efficiency and thus lower CO2 emissions. This includes improvements in the heat recovery process, reductions in the consumption of water, and the widespread conversion to LED in factory floor lighting.
Annually, the division achieves savings of 600 MWh in its consumption of natural gas while, at the same time, raising the production volume at its precision section plant in Kematen, Austria. The annealing furnaces were converted to recuperative burners for this purpose. The new system consumes less energy to heat fresh air by using partially preheated air from the furnace.
Joint photovoltaics project
An emblematic project that aims to generate renewable energy in house using innovative voestalpine photovoltaics products was implemented in the Netherlands, specifically, the company’s Bunschoten plant for automotive components. There, 35,000 solar panels over an area of more than eight soccer fields will generate annual peak solar energy of about 10 million kWh in the future. This will cover one third of the facility’s own energy requirements, with the result that its CO2 emissions will be reduced by close to 6,000 tons a year. voestalpine’s special section systems from Belgium are being used to install the solar panels on the roof.