Qatalum does more with less

As a key component in Qatalum’s ideology, Sustainability remains the baseline to its economic and social success. However it’s in in the area of environmental governance that significant strides have been made.

Qatalum does more with less

​​​​​​​​​​Since conception, Qatalum has put health, safety and environmental (HSE) concerns central within its organisational agenda. Among these concerns, waste management sits as high as any other. Managed by the Environment section of the HSE department and actively implemented by Qatalum’s Project, Carbon, Reduction, Casthouse and Procurement departments and governed by Qatalum’s sustainability mandate. Several internal and external initiatives manage the large quantity of waste at Qatalum in an environment friendly manner by complying with several local regulations governed by the Environmental Permit and Consent to Operate conditions specified by Qatar’s governing authorities.

Overall, Qatalum has managed four waste generating timelines. The first was the end of the construction phase – the storage and disposal of unwanted materials and wastes. Second was the start-up of the plant, followed by the third stage determined by power outage in August 2010. Finally, Qatalum settled into the current state of operational by-products and waste, since September 2011

Since the commencement of Qatalum’s operations, an international best practice waste management standard was introduced and maintained. Recycling companies in Qatar were identified for recycling paper, cartons, tyres, food waste, plastics and waste oil. Systems and facilities were established to collect these waste items separately at Qatalum, enabling the recycling factories to collect some of these items directly from Qatalum and the other items were delivered to such facilities. Moreover, sewage from Qatalum continues to be treated and used for irrigation at the nearby Qatalum Construction Village sewage treatment plant.

In August 2010, however, things took an unexpected turn; Qatalum experienced a power outage that resulted in all running 444 pots freezing. Restarting the smelter was of paramount importance, but equally important was the management and safe disposal of the generated waste materials.

A concerted effort was coordinated to minimize environmental impacts while handling such large quantities of unplanned waste materials, safely, through four stages: cleaning, storage, maintenance and disposal.

It began with the cleaning of the frozen pots including 12,000 tonnes of aluminium metal pads, 3,000 tonnes of electrolytic bath, 7,000 tonnes of anodes, a thousand tonnes of spent pot-lining and 700 tonnes of steel stubs. These materials have the potential to significantly impact the environment if not handled and managed properly, with the potential impacts including dust emission, soil contamination, rain water leaching contaminants to soil and groundwater, and human exposure to the hazardous materials.

In terms of storage, Qatalum was forced to utilize its vast open land as staging areas. The company went even further to build bunkers to safely store a large quantity of loose hazardous materials including carbon bath materials and dismantled pot-lining.

​Bunkers with welded steel plates to prevent contaminants leaching into the soil with walls constructed of green anodes. The electrolytic bath from power outage pots needed to be removed during the pot clean-up, and started coming out in a matter of days after the power outage. Within four days, a large temporary and environmentally safe storage bunker was built. This material was later recycled at Qatalum.Qatalum does more with less

These temporary bunkers had an astonishing ​5,000 tons of capacity for each compartment. The walls were constructed of green anodes, which were later recycled in the carbon plant. The bunkers’ floors were lined with recyclable welded steel plates to prevent contaminants leaching into the soil. Signage was also installed to guide end-users, and the bunkers were covered with tarpaulin covers before the rainy season and also during heavy winds to minimize rain and dust from getting to the stored materials.Qatalum does more with less​Industrial jumbo bags were used to secure loose materials such as bath, carbon powder, alumina, cryolite, potroom basement material and contaminants from an estimated 20,000 square metres of land. This helped to effectively organize the materials by mitigating environmental concerns and aesthetically stacking it prior to removal from the site.

Disposal of the waste materials was strongly governed by recycling and reuse; when feasible. This resulted in recycling bath and pot-room basement materials into Reduction, anode stems and forks being repaired and reused, and non-repairable aluminium was turned into value-added product in Qatalum’s casthouse. Within two years after the outage, Qatalum was able to recycle, sell or dispose all of the waste materials.Qatalum does more with less​Materials management was the key to the post-shutdown clean-up. Aluminium metal pads were collected from the pot-room and cleaned at a dedicated area complete with a facility to ensure dust collection. The generated bath was stored in the bunker area and later on put into bags. The cleaned and cut aluminium pads were sold and fully exported out of Qatar for recycling. This process was undertaken with great priority so that by the end of June 2011, all metal pads were cleaned, cut, packed and shipped. The anodes too were cleaned and separated from the stem before it was stored in the designated open yard. In this process, bath was removed from it and recycled back into the process. The anodes totalling 7,000 tonnes were later recycled at Qatar Steel as carbon feed stock.

As an affirmative management action, following the power outage incident Qatalum appointed a dedicated Sustainability Manager to Qatalum. Dr Mufeed Odeh’s mandate is to recycle all process by-products within Qatalum and the greater Mesaieed Industrial area. A more robust policy regarding sustainability has been drawn up and Qatalum, in keeping with its mission and values, rolls this plan out on a daily basis.

The power outage caused an unexpected spike in challenges for the Qatalum plant and the response reinforced existing waste management systems allowing for Qatalum to respond to current challenges. The ongoing process is partly driven by the “green” agenda within the Qatalum Improvement Programme, begun in 2013 and overseen by the Sustainability Manager.

QIP aims to install lean practices across the whole organization through application of QPS (Qatalum Production System). This involves a systematic approach to continuously improve working standards, systems and processes whilst minimizing waste.

Consequently, a number of improvement initiatives make a great impact on sustainability. They range from recycling aluminium scrap from regional customers to reducing consumption of printing paper and cartridges. In addition, there has been a strong drive to reduce energy consumption and some teams have greatly reduced the use of chemicals such as ammonia and caustic soda. The Carbon plant specifically have establish a great system for recycling defective anode stems whilst the Reduction team are securing vendors to use spent pot lining as an alternative energy resource or as feed stock.

Overall, the mind-set is to enhance the corporate cultural across the organization to ensure that Qatalum only consumes the resources that it needs whilst striving to “do more with less” in a safe and risk-free manner.

Related link

A closer look at environmental drivers within Qatalum can be seen in this presentation made by Mufeed Odeh at ARABAL 2013 in Abu Dhabi.

Click to View Presen​tation​​​​​​​​