Musings, politics and environmental issues

Posts tagged ‘Silicor Materials’

Environmental damage in Iceland minimized

The minke whale hunting season for the year has finished, with a final total of 17 whales. That’s their worst catch ever, and they clearly haven’t caught any since the end of July as I updated Minke whaling gets off to a shaky start on August 1 with the news that only 17 whales had been caught this year. They had been hoping to at least equal last year’s catch of 46 whales, and preferably to exceed it.

The main person behind minke whaling, Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, says that they will “most probably” go out whale killing next year, though the hunting season will be shorter, only two to three months. I can’t see how it’s economical for him to employ people for the season and catch so few. Maybe next year there will be no whaling in Iceland and most of the rest of the world will rejoice, as fin whales have now not been hunted for the last two seasons due to bureaucracy in Japan, not to mention stores of unsold meat.

Another piece of good news is that Silicor Materials has told Icelandic port officials that it no longer intends to build the solar silicon plant in Grundartangi, which had been highly controversial and I had already predicted would not be built. They had had funding problems, amongst other things. The decision will please many people.

The United Silicon plant will remain closed for the next few months – if it ever reopens at all.

Iceland’s oldest aluminium smelter, currently owned by Rio Tinto Alcan and located just outside the Greater Capital Area, is up for sale. Apparently some entities have shown interest – my inkling is that Century Aluminium might be interested, as their proposed aluminium smelter close to the United Silicon smelter has never been completed. But Rio Tinto say that if they can’t find a suitable buyer, they’ll keep the plant.

The other big news, of course, is the fall of the Icelandic government and the election which will now take place on October 28. Apart from the stated reason for the election, which centred around the father of our current Prime Minister signing a letter of support for the clemency of a sex offender, it’s obvious that Bright Future and Vidreisn (Reform) had always been dissatisfied to some extent with working with the Independent Party in the Coalition, both in terms of working procedures and having to water down their politics. Everyone knew the situation was delicate from the start.

Fun and games.


United Silicon problems could have implications for other silicon smelters

The problems with the United Silicon smelter in southwest Iceland are unlikely to be solved immediately, the company’s CEO Helgi Thorhallsson told a meeting on Wednesday. The problem appears to be with the smoke filters, he said, which are too small and thus inadequate. It will take up to five months to get a replacement and set it up, while it could take two years or more for the plant to function normally. He also said that the computer equipment is much more complex than it was when he was in charge of a smelter once before. Note that this is the first time that Thorhallsson has been present at the start-up of a plant.

A local resident asked the meeting: “How on earth can anyone think of putting such industry so close to a residential area? … We’re not experimental animals.” The plant is just over one km from the nearest houses.

The divisional head of the pollution team at the Environment Agency, Sigrun Agustsdottir, puts some of the disgruntlement by residents down to the residents themselves, who should have been aware during the planning stage that pollution could result from the plant. They should have protested at the time, she says.

No dilution zone was needed because silicon plants don’t emit fluorides, and in general pollution from the plant was expected to be minimal. She concedes that perhaps putting heavy industry close to a residential area is maybe something that should be reconsidered in future.

The high pollution levels I blogged about recently turned out to be skewed due to sampling error and should not be taken seriously. The council members who had been calling for he plant’s closure withdrew their demand. The constituents of the burning odour have not yet been analysed.

The United Silicon fiasco has had a number of consequences, however. At the meeting on Wednesday, the council decided not to allocate any more polluting heavy industry to the site above that which has already been allocated. The other two industries are Century Aluminium, which has now decided not to continue building its aluminium smelter, and Thorsil, which intends to build a silicon smelter opposite that of United Silicon. However, funding of the Thorsil plant is now virtually back to square one: potential investors point to the problems with United Silicon and the fact that the licence for that plant has twice been appealed, and are now dragging their feet in committing themselves to funding. In October, funding was almost secure.

The supposedly non-polluting Silicor Materials plant in Grundartangi, West Iceland, has also had funding problems and have been given until September to pay the harbour dues that they owe. I get the feeling that the plant will never get built –  people and funders are becoming increasingly sceptical of heavy industry in Iceland.

The Environment Agency has said that similar problems cannot be excluded for Thorsil and the PCC silicon plant in north Iceland, which is currently under construction.


Iceland’s silicon industry off to a bad start

I’ve just written an article for IDN-InDepthNews, flagship of the International Press Syndicate, about the shaky start (to put it mildly) to the silicon metal industry in Iceland. I’ve blogged before about the environmental effects of silicon metal plants in relation to Thorsil, as its smelter is due to be built on a site adjacent to United Silicon’s smelter in Helguvik on the southwest tip of Iceland. I’ve also blogged on the plan by Silicor Materials to build a “green” solar silicon plant that is so clean it won’t need an EIA done on it (but see my latest article for an update on that).

United Silicon started up its silicon smelter in mid November by using poor-quality wood chips to dry the first furnace and bake the electrode. Almost immediately, residents from the nearby village – less than 1.5 km from the plant – started to complain about burning odours and other health problems. And that’s just the beginning. Read my article for more information.

Four furnaces are planned for United Silicon and four for Thorsil. In addition to the Silicor Materials plant in West Iceland, a fourth plant is under construction in the north, by Husavik.

The new environment minister in Iceland, Bjort Olafsdottir, is not keen on silicon smelters but says there is little she can do because previous governments agreed finance agreements with silicon manufacturers. At least it appears that no more than these four will be built – though I’m not totally convinced that she cannot stop the Silicor Materials plant from being built, as it is having financing problems along with facing public opposition.


Pollution from Grundartangi

As someone trained in environmental impact assessment, I have complained before about how the Icelandic Planning Agency has often decided that a project doesn’t need an environmental impact assessment when I  feel it should do. Maybe they will rethink this in future.

A metal recycling company called Geothermal Metal Recycling (GMR Endurvinnsla) was set up in 2013 in Grundartangi in West Iceland, near the Century aluminium plant. It is a small company and the Planning Agency decided that it didn’t need an EIA done on it. But in the 2.5 years since it started operating, 23 incidents regarding pollution prevention, pollution and other factors relating to their operating licence have been reported to the Environment Agency, which monitors the operations of polluting companies. Of these, 11 came last year. Apparently some of them were the same, and related to things that were apparently fixed but obviously weren’t.

Twice, emissions from the plant exceeded maximum allowed levels. In February 2014, emissions of sulphur dioxide were 3 times over the level stipulated in the licence, while in October last year dioxin was recorded over the permissible level stipulated in the licence. Air pollution is only recorded once a year. Waste piles up, which could lead to soil pollution. Etc.

The Planning Agency has also decided that the proposed Silicor Materials solar silicon plant at Grundartangi does not need an EIA done on it.  This decision is controversial, amongst locals and others. Let’s hope that a similar situation does not arise – though it may well do.

Silicor Materials plant controversial

The proposed solar silicon plant in Grundartangi, West Iceland, is proving controversial. The plant will be located on the north side of Hvalfjordur fjord, within the dilution area of the existing Elkem ferro-silicon plant and Century aluminium factory. The Planning Agency decided it did not need to be subject to an EIA but recently various individuals, municipalities and campaigning groups have spoken out about it and expressed distrust in the proposed development. Umhverfisvaktin have, for instance, said that Silicor Materials are intending to use a production method that has only been used on a small scale up till now and there is no guarantee that the method will work flawlessly in Grundartangi, where production is intended to be a lot more. Musician Bubbi Morthens, who lives near the south side of the fjord, has expressed his distrust in the matter, while at a meeting organised by the Planning Agency on environmental impact assessment a local authority representative pointed out that the plant would employ 460 staff and the fact that they would all need to be housed somewhere (presumably in new developments) is a matter of concern in itself.

The company say that some of the staff will be Icelandic, some foreign. Unemployment in the local area is negligible, so staff will have to move to the area.

Environmental effects of silicon metal manufacturing plants

Until recently I was taken in by the propaganda that silicon metal manufacturing plants were relatively benign and produced metal that would be used for solar panels and the like. But having now read an environmental impact assessment for the proposed Thorsil plant in Helguvik, I have now changed my mind. They pollute. And in Helguvik, on the southwest tip of Iceland near its international airport, there will not be just one silicon metal plant but two, coupled with a second Nordural aluminium smelter if that ever gets finished (which I doubt). There is also a waste incinerator nearby and various other industries that pollute to a greater or lesser extent.

The Thorsil EIA admits that pollutant levels will sometimes exceed the limit values set in regulations, but says this will happen within the “dilution area”, where concentrations are expected and allowed to be higher. But what they appear not to have done and should have is to carry out a GIS (Geographical Information System) and overlay what is actually within the dilution area and the dilution area together. The northernmost edge of the local town of Reykjanesbaer is less than 1.5 km from the plant. And the local horse-owners are up in arms because the local stabling area (and summer pasture for horses) is within the dilution area (1 km from the plant), and they are concerned because of what happened to horses just outside the dilution zone of the Century/Nordural aluminium smelter in Grundartangi, West Iceland. Here is a link to the protest by horse owners and locals who descended on the local town hall to demand a local referendum about the influx of polluting industry in Helguvik. The main pollutant of concern is said to be sulphur dioxide, SO2.

Silicor Materials are also planning a solar silicon plant up at Grundartangi where the Nordural aluminium smelter and Elkem ferrosilicon plant are based. The Planning Agency said that its environmental effects would be negligible as it is not supposed to release sulphur dioxide or fluorides, and so it would not need an EIA performed on it. But not everyone is in agreement. The local conservation group, Umhverfisvaktin, is up in arms. Grundartangi does not need any more polluting industry either.