Less waste dumping, less CO2 emissions, less asbestos and other hazardous substances in the environment, less raw material diversion, and a revenue model too. What Purified Metal Company does in Delfzijl looks like magic. It isn't. It is about cleverly combining existing techniques.
When the king is willing to perform the opening ceremony, you have something special on your hands. In late September he visited Delfzijl, together with State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven and Wouter Bos (Invest-NL), to declare Purified Metal Company (PMC) open. In the brand new plant, from mid-November contaminated steel will be converted into new raw materials for the steel industry.
An old train set, a depreciated oil rig, a dated chemical plant, a demolished factory hall. The owners and the demolition companies in charge of dismantling often face a major problem: what to do with the steel contaminated with asbestos, with mercury, with PCBs, with Chromium VI? Processing fails, dumping is what remains. Until now.
Because NOM decided to invest heavily in us, raising more capital became easier.
PMC devised a process that converts that contaminated scrap into sustainable, high-quality raw materials for the steel industry. An alternative to mined ore essentially. 'We brought together existing knowledge in different subfields. And so we have a system in our hands that allows us to produce cost-efficiently,' explains director Jan Henk Wijma.
At the plant, contaminated scrap metal is first cut into pieces and then heated in the furnace to over 1,500 degrees Celsius. Contamination is thereby separated from the steel. The asbestos structure disintegrates into harmless components. Other harmful substances are captured by the flue gas cleaning system where they are destroyed or neutralized. The clean, liquid steel is then poured into blocks that go to the regular steel industry. This saves one kilo of CO2 emissions per kilo of recycled steel produced, because no ore has to be processed.
A unique feature is the plant's flue gas cleaning. The flue gas produced during smelting in the furnace is cleaned of all toxic substances and metal particles in four stages. Only clean air finally leaves the chimney.
And so in Delfzijl stands a factory that seems almost too good to be true. A factory that attracts international attention, too. Because the problem it helps solve is certainly not a typically Dutch phenomenon. Recycling contaminated steel in this way does not yet exist anywhere else. It has been patented worldwide. Commercial manager Nathalie van de Poel: "We are not secretive about that, our ambition extends beyond the Netherlands. We can serve the entire country and also Belgium and northern Germany from Delfzijl, but the market is of course much larger. The first orders from across the border have already arrived, by the way.'
Old-fashioned dumping of contaminated scrap metal costs money. Disposal to PCB in Delfzijl costs less. That is an extremely important principle. Without an economic incentive, too little happens on the supply side. Thanks to contracts with hauliers, the recycling company also ensures that transport costs can never be a barrier to supplying scrap.
It was a path of figuring out, negotiating, calculating and persevering, which was taken nine years ago. Three colleagues from steel concern Nedstaal (Jan Henk Wijma, Nathalie van de Poel and Bert Bult) are at the cradle of PMC. Nathalie van de Poel: 'In 2011, Nedstaal was offered a train wagon containing asbestos-contaminated steel. When it turned out that we could not process the steel - despite the low price - and so it would be dumped, we thought: there must be another way.'
Seventy million euros
Evening after evening, the three drew and calculated on their idea, initially intended as an extra service for Nedstaal. Wijma: 'When, in three months, we had what appeared to be a sound business case, slowly but surely the realization sank in that we had to do this ourselves, as a separate company. We discovered that the way we combined existing techniques was unique. So we dove into the world of patents. And we got it. Very important.
On a lab scale, the idea worked; on paper, too. Experts concluded that the way PMC treats contaminated scrap metal works. The initiators therefore skipped the phase of a pilot plant; they went straight for big, for a plant that has immediate impact. But: that costs a lot of money. One hundred million euros, was the estimate. In the end, the factory stands for seventy million.
How do you get that kind of money without being able to show how it works? Wijma: 'The phase when we started doing that was the moment we decided we needed to be involved full-time.' Then the hardest part is always getting the first funding sheep over the dam. Nathalie van de Poel succeeded. She knocked on the door of Jansen Recycling Group from Dordrecht in 2014. 'We knew Jansen because of the importance attached to sustainability.
That the company showed confidence in us and our plan is worth gold. We received venture capital and were able to continue farming.' Next question: where should the factory be located? After visiting numerous locations, the choice fell on Delfzijl. Wijma: "The short lines of communication, the important network, the cooperation with the province and municipality, the available personnel, the energy to be had, all these things together made Delfzijl by far the best choice. We felt very welcome, more so than elsewhere.'
That's where NOM sneaks into the story. Its job is to bring promising companies to the northern Netherlands. PMC is that, as evidenced by the thirty men who have already found work there and the roughly 35 jobs that will be added in the short term. 'Because NOM decided to invest heavily in us, attracting more capital became easier,' says Wijma. 'That has been essential. I can still remember exactly when the confirming phone call came on a Friday evening, a wonderful moment.'
Talk about shining moments. In late September, King Willem-Alexander opened the factory. Wijma: "I am originally a naval officer and have already met him in that capacity. Perhaps that helped a little in accepting our invitation. Anyway, it says something about the importance of our factory, our technology.'
Nathalie van de Poel and Jan Henk Wijma can't wait until November, the time when trucks carrying contaminated scrap enter the airlocks, the plant starts running and produces clean Purified Metal Blocks. Ultimately, 150,000 tons of scrap should be processed annually. The ambitions reach further. Nathalie van de Poel: "When we are fully up and running, we will have a great showcase. In all the countries where contaminated scrap metal is currently being dumped for payment, we see opportunities.' To be continued, then.