Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘Reykjanesbaer’

PCC silicon smelter at Bakki no better than United Silicon’s smelter at Helguvik

The Icelandic media have gradually woken up to the fact that the silicon smelter  operated by PCC at Bakki in North Iceland is little better than Iceland’s first silicon smelter at Helguvik, owned by United Silicon, which was closed down by the Environment Agency on September 1 last year after about nine months of operation. Initially, the lack of media attention indicated that everything was going to plan, when in fact this was not the case at all.

Besides having to switch the first furnace at Bakki on and off a number of times, with accompanying odour problems, when it was finally brought into operation after a delay of over four months, there was a fire at Bakki in July and ongoing problems with the start-up of the second furnace. Bogi, which apparently still hasn’t become fully functional (United Silicon were never allowed to start up a second furnace because of the problems with the first one).

Then last month there was an accident to one of the workers, when he was using a “gun” to open part of the furnace and the bullet rebound to hit him on his arm.

The trade union for the plant’s workers, Framsýn, say that staff turnover has been rapid and that many of the new workers come from Estonia. Workers are discontented and relations between management and ordinary workers are strained – probably not helped by the accident.

In mid-September the smelter’s first managing director, Hafsteinn Viktorsson, was replaced by Jokull Gunnarsson, who had previously been in charge of the plant’s production process. The media have complained that it is nigh impossible to contact Gunnarsson.

The company make light of all their problems, glossing over them with words such as “There are many things to think about when starting up a furnace…” “and “Such events can occur…”.

Just as I thought that the ongoing problems at Bakki must make it unlikely that a buyer would be found for the Helguvik smelter, it was reported that many investors had shown interest in buying the Helguvik plant. PCC still don’t have any news in English on their website or their Facebook page, so I don’t know how much the prospective buyers of the Helguvik plant know about the problems encountered by PCC with its “best available technology”.

One item of interest concerning the Helguvik plant is that Stakksberg – the company set up by Arion Bank to sell the smelter – has been working with the local Reykjanesbaer council to change the district land-use plans because two of the smelter’s buildings are too high. One would have expected that the smelter’s buildings would have been adapted to the plans….

Update, 23 October: They STILL haven’t managed to get the second furnace to work.

Update, 10 November: They seem to have got Boga working again.

Silicon metal plant at Helguvik may start operation in 2020

I didn’t think it was possible, but it looks like it is. Final touches are being made to designs for improvements to the  beleaguered silicon metal plant that was previously owned and operated by United Silicon. After United Silicon went into liquidation, Arion Bank took over and set up a new company, EB0117 ehf, that has the remit of getting the plant into a functional state again. img_0223

Apparently, some of the improvements will be subject to an EIA – I’d thought that the whole development would be subject to an EIA but it looks like this won’t happen.

The bank wants to sell the plant. Some buyers are said to have shown interest, including large companies that already operate silicon metal plants and are supposed to know what they’re doing.

The plan is for the plant to restart in 2020. Costs are expected to be around ISK 3 billion (almost 25 million Euros), but better estimates won’t be known until the autumn.

Meanwhile, PCC Bakki have announced that they intend to double the capacity of their silicon metal plant in the north as they will not necessarily have to invest in a great deal of extra equipment, with the exception of a building to house two extra furnaces. Admittedly, this expansion had been part of the original plan, but I suspect people are surprised that PCC is thinking about the expansion so soon, after experiencing various teething problems.

However, the expansion will need financing, and that process will take at least 1.5 years. Designing the expansion will probably take 4-6 months.

In the meantime, anything might happen.

Update: Recent council elections have led to a new majority in Reykjanesbaer, which includes Helguvik, which says it rejects the development of polluting industry at Helguvik and is opposed to the reopening of the silicon metal plant there. This might also mean that Thorsil will give up on its plan to set up a silicon metal smelter opposite the one previously owned by United Silicon.

Watch this space.

Update: It appears that the company known as EB0117 is now called Stakksberg and comments have been requested for a draft evaluation strategy (in Icelandic) (scoping document) for improvements to the plant. The deadline for comments is July 10.

Silicon smelter in North Iceland still not in operation

The PCC silicon metal smelter at Bakki, near Húsavik in North Iceland, was supposed to be started up in mid-December. Start-up was then delayed until January, then February, and then the end of March. Now it’s April 1 and there is still no sign or mention of start-up. However, their (Icelandic) webpage says that the final stage of development will start after Easter, and should not take more than two weeks. It will end with the initial start-up of one of the furnaces.

Considering that the initial start-up was supposed to have been in December, it sounds like the plant would not have been completely built by then. Which doesn’t bode well for the operation, in my opinion.

Meanwhile, in Reykjanesbaer, the nearest town to what was once United Silicon’s silicon metal smelter, town councillor Fridjon Einarsson says that local residents should have the final say if the plant gets bought by another company with a view to getting it operational once again. He says that local residents should not be experimental animals for heavy industry, and that most residents nowadays work in tourism so heavy industry is not needed from an employment point of view.

No mention has been made recently of whether the Thorsil silicon metal plant will be built. It has an operating licence and is designated to be built on a site opposite the plant once operated by United Silicon.

Update, April 21: The first furnace was switched on yesterday. The idea is to gradually increase the heat and then put raw material into it.

Update, April 26: Though the Icelandic media reported that the furnace had been switched on, it now appears that it wasn’t – or if it was, it was switched off again. The news pages on the site are annoying as they are not dated (except the URL gives the date away), but the latest news, from Monday, says there has been another delay and they are waiting for spare parts to arrive. They now say that it will be the end of this week or even after the weekend. Ho hum!

Update May 1: PCC announced yesterday that they would begin heating the first furnace that evening.


Arsenic released from United Silicon smelter

The United Silicon fiasco continues. Now, recordings from a monitoring station in the nearby town of Reykjanesbaer, about one kilometre from the United Silicon smelter, show high concentrations of arsenic. The EIA for the smelter stated that arsenic would be released in small quantities, 0.32 ng per cubic metre, but figures as high as 6.9 ng/m3 have been recorded. Note that the environmental limit for arsenic is 6.0 ng/m3, measured over a year, and that arsenic is a carcinogen that is implicated in both lung and skin cancers. Besides arsenic, 16 different PAH compounds, 6 other heavy metals and sulphur were detected, but these are not expected to cause health problems.

The Environment Agency are about to look for a company to carry out an engineering appraisal of the design and management of the plant and reiterate that only one furnace must be in operation – the original intention was to have four furnaces eventually. The company protested, but the Agency is adamant.

Reykjanesbaer council members have also had enough. Although they stood up for the plant at the residents’ meeting in December, now the mayor  – who has been inundated with complaints since the start-up – says that the plant should be closed. Two other council members are also calling for the plant’s closure.

Remember that there is supposed to be another silicon plant set up by Thorsil, opposite the United Silicon plant. The operating licence for that was appealed late last year, granted with provisos and has now been appealed again, on the grounds that the synergistic effect of the two silicon smelters was not done.


UPDATE: It appears that the high arsenic levels resulted from some sort of sampling irregularity. The council are no longer calling for closure of the plant – though many problems still persist.