La Rochelle transitions to cleaner energy

  La Rochelle Solvay plant Click to enlarge

Working for Solvay, I get to undertake a lot of technically challenging projects which improve energy performance and reduce COemissions. But one of the most interesting, and a first for our Group, has been our partnership with CDC Climat and Marubeni.

In 2013, we launched a joint-venture with our partners to finance energy efficiency projects in the Euro zone. I was appointed project manager of the first investment by the joint venture team. This project involved the complete overhaul of the energy cogeneration system at Solvay’s plant in La Rochelle (France).

Since 1995, the system at La Rochelle has been ‘co’ generating two forms of energy: steam for use onsite; and electricity which is sold to EDF, one of France’s largest electricity suppliers. With the aim of improving the energy and environmental performance of the plant, La Rochelle’s management team asked us to conduct an energy audit of the plant.

Achieving energy efficiency

In 2011 the audit was completed and the plant adopted our recommendation to completely renovate the cogeneration system. Our main challenge was to replace the fuel-oil boiler with a highly efficient gas-fired boiler. The fuel-oil boiler had been in service since 1995. Changing from oil to gas was a significant step forward, as it eliminated emissions from the plant’s chimney, improving the visual environment for La Rochelle’s residents.

We started work in April 2013, the end of winter. Our goal was to have the new system installed and fully operational before November when cold weather would set in again.

New boiler in La Rochelle

This was the first project to be financed using our new joint venture model. A new contract was signed with EDF, ensuring that Solvay and our partners would be able to recoup the costs of this important project. By combining expertise and sharing the financing, the three partners aimed to achieve the most efficient and profitable cogeneration system, while significantly reducing the environmental impact of the La Rochelle plant.

Thanks to the close supervision of the Solvay Engineering team, the cogeneration system was completed on time and on budget. It began producing energy in November 2013. The system now generates up to 30 tonnes of steam per hour, and 7.2 megawatts of energy.

Sustainable benefits for residents, the environment and our partners

  Solvay wins the 2015 Energy transition award Click to enlarge
The benefits of this project have been impressive for Solvay, the environment, local community and our joint venture partners. In terms of environmental performance, emissions of greenhouse gases have been significantly reduced. For example, COemissions have dropped by 25% on average, removing around 6,600 tonnes of this gas from the atmosphere each year. Emissions of other greenhouse gases such as NO(down 24%) and SO(-90%) have also decreased drastically.

The residents of La Rochelle have also seen significant improvements. As well as eliminating smoke from the chimney, dust emissions have dropped by 84% and heavy metals in the atmosphere have fallen by 90%. Switching from fuel-oil to gas also eliminated the need for 100 roundtrips by oil trucks each year. Energy bills at the La Rochelle plant decreased by 20% once the new system came on-stream.

In May this year, we received the 2015 Energy Transition Award for the financing and renovation of the cogeneration system at La Rochelle. Presented by specialist industry magazines Usine Nouvelle (New Factory) and Usine de l’Energie (Plant Energy), the award recognizes the outstanding work of our teams, the collaboration with the team at La Rochelle, and the involvement of our joint venture partners CDC Climat and Marubeni. All of these players were committed to making this project a success and further improving the global environmental performance of the Solvay Group.

With our first joint venture proving to be such a success, we have committed to develop this type of innovative financing structure on other projects for Solvay and third-parties. A second project was recently finalized at Solvay Belle-Etoile Saint-Fons near Lyon (France) with more to come!