Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for January, 2020

Difficult silicon market hinders sale of Helguvik smelter

Iceland’s Arion Bank, which has a number of holding companies including Stakksberg, the company entailed with the task of trying to sell the silicon metal smelter in Helguvik originally owned by United Silicon and closed down by the Environment Agency (EA) in September 2017, has sent out a statement saying that they have reduced the value ascribed to Stakksberg from 6.9 billion kronur (USD 52.9 million) at the end of March 2019 to 3.2 billion kronur (USD 25.6 million) nine months later.

Stakksberg has been rectifying some of the problems with the smelter identified by the EA, and has been trying to find a buyer for almost two years. The smelter’s original owner, United Silicon, went bankrupt in January 2018, but in December 2017 they too were searching for buyers.

According to Stakksberg’s homepage, the idea was to have the smelter up and running in the last quarter of 2020.

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Arion Bank says that because of “uncertainty in the market, several manufacturers have reduced their production or closed smelters. Thus unused manufacturing capacity is available that might well have a negative effect on the sale of the silicon metal smelter in Helguvik”.

If they have done their homework, potential buyers – if there are any – would be aware of the problems faced by PCC Bakki Silicon in the north, who asked for more funding last year. PCC have also had unexpected problems with Iceland’s winter weather, and say that the problems they have encountered were not those they were expecting – despite using best available technology, etc. None of this would be of any comfort to prospective buyers of the Helguvik smelter down south.

People involved in ASH, the campaign group against the reopening of the Helguvik silicon smelter, are overjoyed however, as there was a lot of opposition by locals to the smelter during the short time that it was operating.

It’s not just the silicon metal industry that is facing problems. Because of worsening conditions in the aluminium market, which are “very demanding”, Iceland’s oldest aluminium smelter is going to operate at 15% reduced capacity in 2020, with a corresponding decrease in electricity use. The plant is currently Iceland’s second largest user of electricity.

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This smelter, which is situated on the outskirts of the capital city, is currently owned by Rio Tinto Alcan but was searching for a new owner two years ago. Norsk Hydro was going to buy it but the sale fell through seven months later.

Update, 12 February 2019: Rio Tinto has just announced that it will do a strategic review of its Icelandic smelter at Straumsvik, due to high electricity costs – which Icelanders consider are actually very low – and “historically low” aluminium prices. They may even close the smelter. The review is expected to be completed within the next few months.

 

App scans for harmful chemicals

The Scan4Chem app, which was originally launched in Denmark in 2014 under the name of Tjek Kemien, has been replaced by a new version which this time will be Europe-wide.

Jointly developed by Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Austria, Spain, Poland, Czechia, Croatia, Portugal, Greece, France and Luxembourg as well as Denmark, the new version was launched in Sweden, Luxembourg and Germany in November 2019 but was launched this week in the other countries involved. During the next three years, the app will be developed for other countries so that eventually almost every European country will have its own version. The app is available from App Store and Google Play and is free of charge.

Originally, the app was developed by Danish Consumer Council Think Chemicals (DCCTC) and the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, but now is being coordinated by AskREACH. Now, “500 million Europeans will be able to use the same app”, says Danish Environment Minister Lea Wermelin.

Suppliers of articles containing SVHCs (Substances of Very High Concern) have a duty to inform a consumer, if asked, if an SVHC is present at a concentration above 0.1 %, and the consumer must receive an answer within 45 days.

By scanning the barcode of a product, consumers send a request to the supplier to obtain information about the presence of SVHCs in the product concerned. The app scans information provided by the company about the product and can give the consumer an answer immediately. If information is not available for the product, the company will be notified via the app that information about the product concerned must be provided.

Consumers Europe-wide can help each other, says Anja Philip, President of the Danish Consumer Council: “If a German consumer has received an answer about a product, and if it is placed in the database of the company, then a Danish consumer will get the answer immediately when the product is scanned in Denmark.”

Products such as clothing, furniture, toys and electronics can be scanned with the app.

Claus Jørgensen, head of the DCCTC project, says that the original app was downloaded about 40,000 times and that when the app was overwritten, “officially yesterday”, they still had “between 500-1,000 scans per month” for the Danish app.

He says he believes the app “has raised awareness among consumers and companies. Unfortunately, companies chose to answer ‘around’ the app, so that the consumer received the answer, but the answer was not stored in our database for the benefit of other consumers scanning the same product”.

This was the reason for the development of the app Europe-wide, says Jørgensen: “The companies will now face many requests and it will be easier for them to put the data in the database than answering each person individually.”

At least 3 million European consumers are expected to download the new app, although potentially half a billion could do so. AskReach say that 13,460 have downloaded the app for Android and iOS in Sweden since it was launched there two months ago, but it has not been heavily promoted because they want to make improvements first.

Note that the app is not available for the UK – and whether it will eventually be available with Brexit about to happen is an interesting question.

A shorter version of this appeared today on the ENDS Europe website.