Business news

New energy recovery plant turns syngas into electricity at Willebroek, Belgium

With the construction of a new onsite energy recovery plant, Imerys is capturing the feedstock energy contained in syngas, a by-product generated during the carbon black manufacturing. The project – a partnership with energy supplier E.On – will significantly reduce the environmental footprint of carbon black – a key additive  in lithium ion batteries serving the clean energy transition. 

New energy recovery plant turns waste gas into electricity at Willebroek, Belgium

Carbon black may not be a material many people are familiar with. But, as a critical component in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells, it plays a key role in the latest consumer electronics, electric vehicles and energy storage facilities. If you are reading this on your phone, you will literally be holding carbon black – albeit a very small amount – in your hand. 
Demand for carbon black is increasing and will continue to do so, supported by growth in the e-mobility and energy storage sectors. However, this important material comes with its own environmental challenge. 

Sustainable release of emissions

Production of carbon black releases syngas, which contain hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The syngas is traditionally disposed of via thermal afterburning. This releases carbon dioxide and other emissions; the energy contained in the syngas is also lost. 
When it comes to syngas treatment, we were convinced that we needed to find a more sustainable way,” said Frank Wittchen, Imerys’ Graphite & Carbon Vice President. “We therefore set out to find a way to enable the recovery of the energy that was being lost when we flared the syngas.”
As a result of that journey, Imerys’ Willebroek plant in Belgium is taking a major step into a more sustainable future with the installation of a new energy recovery plant. 
Fabrice Zuddas, Industrial Projects Group VP, explains: “Instead of losing the energy contained in the syngas, it will now be used to create steam in a boiler. This steam will turn a conventional condensing steam turbine to generate electricity. It is a proven, reliable and robust technology that can handle the varying quality and quantity of syngas from Willebroek.

Build-own-operate project with E.On

The energy recovery plant is being implemented on the Willebroek site by E.On Power Plants Belgium on a build-own-operate (BOO) basis. A subsidiary of Germany-based E.On Group, the company has extensive experience supplying onsite energy solutions for industrial customers. 
Electricity generation is not one of our core competencies,” says Frank. “We were therefore looking for a suitable partner with a proven and solid track record in this field. E.On ticked all the boxes, and we are pleased to have them onboard.”  
After construction and completion the energy recovery plant will remain under the ownership of E.ON When it comes online in the third quarter of 2025, the plant will supply all electricity required for production of carbon black at Willebroek. Surplus energy will be fed to the local grid, supplying enough electricity to power up to 40 000 homes each year in the local area. The plant will also be fitted with the best available emissions control technology to reduce NOx (nitrogen oxide) and SOx (sulphur oxide) emissions in compliance with EU regulations. 
This project represents a major step forward for our Willebroek operations in line with our group commitments to responsible  environmental stewardship.” concludes Frank. “We now have a solution that turns a waste product into a valuable resource, and significantly improves the sustainability of our carbon black production.” 


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