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$1 billion later: Vale completes its Clean AER project

Superstack to be decommissioned as miner reduces emissions by 85%

The largest single environmental investment in Greater Sudbury is now complete.

Vale celebrated the completion of its $1-billion Clean Atmospheric Emissions Reduction project on Friday, achieving an 85-per-cent reduction in previous sulphur dioxide emissions and a 40-per-cent reduction in metal particulate emissions.

Dave Stefanuto, director of projects for Vale's North Atlantic Operations, said the completion of the has been 10 years in the making, and was no small undertaking. This size and scope of the project was massive, considering the company continued to operate with no interruptions.

“We began in earnest in 2008, and broke ground in 2012, but the project has evolved over the years,” Stefanuto said. “We decided to move to a single furnace operation in 2013, which resulted in a greater reduction in emissions we had originally estimated."

There are three core elements to the project: new converters in the smelter facility; the new wet gas cleaning plant, and; a new secondary baghouse facility.

The new converters improve containment and capture the sulphur dioxide from the converting process in the smelter. They send the captured SO2 to the new wet gas cleaning plant, where cutting-edge technology has resulted in a reduction of SO2 emissions by 85 per cent.

The new baghouse facility acts like a giant vaccum cleaner and will reduce metals particulate emissions by 40 per cent, Vale said. videographer Heather Green-Oliver was at the event today and produced this video highlighting the completion of the Clean AER construction. Check it out:

Two new stacks — measuring 137 metres in height — have also been built on the property, and will be more efficient to operate than the Superstack. As well, natural gas consumption will drop by about half of what is currently used to power the Superstack once those stacks are commissioned.

“Of course, the $1 billion gets us cleaner air, which is the objective of the project,” Stefanuto said. “It's a simple statement, but complex to achieve in a smelter as complex and with as long a history as this one here in Sudbury. This project and its reductions have transformed our business for the better.”

Ricus Grimbeek, chief operating officer for Vale Canada's North Atlantic Operations and Asian refineries, said the Clean AER project has had an amazing impact on both Vale's operations and the community as a whole.

When it was first built, the Superstack was a marvel of engineering, being the second highest stack in the world at the time, and it's become quite an iconic landmark, he said.

“What we've done over the past 10 years with the Clean AER project is the next phase, and it shows what industry can do when technology evolves,” Grimbeek said. “We live in one of the most amazing mining communities in the world, and we are going to build an amazing company over the next five or 10 years.”

Technology keeps evolving, and Vale intends to stay ahead of the curve, Grimbeek said.

“We want to grow this business, and we will keep transforming it into a world class operation.”

Dr. David Pearson, co-director of the science communication program and professor of Earth Sciences at Laurentian University, was one of the guest speakers at the celebration. He brought with him one of a dozen ceremonial shovels used in the ground breaking ceremony at the start of the Clean AER project.

Pearson remembers a time before the Superstack was built. On particularly bad days, when the air was so dense with the emission from the smelting process, he would have to run from his car in the parking lot at Laurentian University to the building.

“It was not a pleasant experience in those days,” he said.

He crunched some numbers, and said emissions in three days before that stack was built would be the same as what's produced in a year as the result of this project.

“I think it would take more than 100 years of (current) emissions to meet the annual emissions from the late 1960s – the change is extraordinary,” he said.

Vale has reduced its emissions so much, that the iconic Superstack is no longer needed. In fact, Vale's emissions will be only one per cent of what they were when the Superstack was built in 1972, said Stefanuto.

As such, the Superstack will be decommissioned in 2020, once the two new stacks are commissioned.

That news has met with mixed reviews from those who have grown up with the Superstack being a normal part of their daily lives, as its demolition is will eventually happen after its decommissioned.

The removal will happen in stages, so people won't see a change immediately in 2020, and it will be there for some time to come, Stefanuto said.

“People really hold it dear to their hearts, but we look at it as a positive symbol of how the company is changing to meet the new regulations, and I think we should be really proud of the fact we can actually turn off that old technology and look forward to something new.”

Mayor Brian Bigger said Vale's $1-billion investment represents a strong commitment to the city, and a strong belief in its future.

“We've come so far as a community since the 1970s, and I'm really excited about our future,” Bigger said. “Investments like the Clean AER project ensure our great community partner, Vale, can continue sustainable mining operations while reducing energy usage and drastically improving our air quality.”


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Arron Pickard

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