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      • When it comes to working with gold, it’s time for us to think green! - Darren Matthias, Project Manager at Vale Europe
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When it comes to working with gold, it’s time for us to think green! - Darren Matthias, Project Manager at Vale Europe

The precious metal refining industry guzzles its fair share of energy and chemicals. That’s why, at Vale Acton, we are always committed to ensuring our systems are as energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly as they possibly can be.

This was becoming increasingly difficult, however. Parts of our steam system were around 40 years old, and were becoming difficult to repair and maintain.

At Vale, our top two priorities are the safety of our employees and sustainability. We use a lot of steam for our heating and production processes, but the age of the systems meant that they were wasting huge amounts of energy every day. We may work with gold, but we always think green, which is why we decided to seek specialist advice on how we could put the sparkle and shine back into our systems.

A half-effective plant causing a whole lot of problems

We enlisted the help of Spirax Sarco, which conducted a full audit of our Acton site. The results were definitely an eye-opener! The audit revealed that our condensate return system​ was one of the main causes of our plant’s inefficiency, due largely to inconsistent water and blowdown quality. This was, in turn, damaging other parts of the plant.

To make matters worse, the audit revealed that our boiler house was operating at only half the efficiency that we actually required!

Where on earth could we go from here? Well, after this initial consultation, we decided that a complete system overhaul would be needed to get our plant functioning properly. An ambitious undertaking, wouldn’t you agree?

A golden opportunity

Thanks to the bespoke solutions provided by Spirax Sarco and the hard work and efforts of Vale Acton’s employees, we were able to replace all of our ageing equipment with the most efficient, modern technology, including new steam traps, condensate return units, contamination detection systems, oxygen trims, and double block and bleed isolation valves. Our employees also got new controls to help them see where energy was being most effectively used, and where it wasn’t.

Our half-effective boiler house was also swapped out, with the oil and gas boilers replaced by two new gas-fired boilers.

This may seem like it cost a small fortune, but believe me when I tell you that the cost-savings we’ve seen since refitting our plant have made this an investment well worth taking. Our boiler house now operates at 95 per cent efficiency, and we have reduced costs by around 60 per cent since the audit was undertaken.

Clean, green, safe steam

As I’ve said before, environmental sustainability and employee safety are paramount to our business, and we have been proud to announce a reduction of 55 per cent in our nitrogen oxide emissions. Not only that, but we have also completely eliminated our sulphide oxide emissions!

To enhance safety at the plant, all of our employees have received training via a Boiler Operation Accreditation Scheme (BOAS) course. This means everyone is helping to maintain a safe and efficient boiler house by observing best practice at all times.

An audit may feel like opening a can of worms, but it’s the only way to reap the benefits of an efficient, cost-effective and safe steam system. Well, what are you waiting for? Take action today and you’ll soon find that an efficient system is more than worth its weight in gold!

Darren Matthias, Project Manager at Vale Acton ​​

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