On a sunny day on the 24th of March, Yara Sluiskil officially opened two novel sustainability projects, one relating to biodiversity, the other related to algae-based water treatment.
Normally, Sluiskil is a scene of gas pipelines, prilling towers and smoking chimneys. Being Yara’s largest industrial complex, the plant manufactures thousands of tons of products, to be shipped all across the world. However, it is also fittingly surrounded by farming fields, greenhouse complexes and charming villages. Additionally, an interesting project on biodiversity recently grabbed attention.
The biodiversity project falls under a policy directive called 'Temporary Nature'. This innovative concept attempts to stimulate private owners to manage idle industrial plots in a way that temporarily improves their ecosystem performance. A legal framework guarantees that the landowner can redevelop the site whenever that is required.
Yara Sluiskil is the first private company in the province of Zeeland joining this initiative. On a 12 hectare plot adjacent to the Urea 7 plant, Yara facilitates a process of rehabilitation of the natural and cultural-historical value of the area, in collaboration with local environmental agencies ZMf and SLZ.
Activities implemented in the field include the establishment of a nature trail; 'accommodation' for birds, bats, and bees; a water pool; and the planting of traditional hedges, fruit trees and cereal cultivars to promote biodiversity.
"What's in it for Yara," as Yara’s Plant Manager Jon Sletten explains, "is that with fairly modest efforts and investment we earn social credit among local stakeholders, on whom we depend for our license-to-operate, in a country where land and nature are relatively scarce resources."
On a yearly basis, Yara Sluiskil draws about 3.5 million cubic meters (cbm) of water from the adjacent Ghent-Terneuzen canal. About 85% of that water is used for the manufacturing of liquid end-products such as Air1. The remaining 15% is discharged back into the canal as wastewater, part of it treated (200,000 cbm), another part untreated (300,000 cbm).
"This is a two-year trial to treat wastewater with algae, on an industrial scale," explains algae basin project manager Remy Bun. "The algae extract nutrient loads from the currently untreated wastewater, which contains mostly nitrogen. The biomass produced in this way could be used as a bio-fertilizer, or can supply pigments, oil, or sugars. The project is financed in part by Yara and other private partners, and also receives local subsidies promoting innovation and green growth initiatives."
The algae basin
At the base of these original Yara initiatives lies management vision, a long-standing tradition of engagement with the local community, dedicated work of enthusiastic Yara employees, and effective partnerships with local stakeholders. The two projects, although modest in size and ambition, provide inspiring examples of what can be achieved through public-private partnerships (PPPs).
The festive and well-arranged event was attended by some 70 people from various stakeholder groups, including Yara Sluiskil management and employees, local partners from the private and public environmental sectors, municipality dignitaries, neighboring companies and even some curious local residents.