NOVA Chemicals has been working on an expansion project of their polyethylene plant in Joffre since it broke ground almost one and a half years ago, with big portions of the project taking shape.
The $1 billion project includes a world-scale reactor, the third on the site. During the polyethylene reactor project (PE1 Expansion Project), a second task of upgrading existing furnace structures will take place.
All of the work being done at Joffre will raise the site’s production of polyethylene (a common form of plastic polymer used in water bottles, plastic bags, etc.) and will do so without substantially increasing the plant’s ecological footprint, staff say.
“For all of our expansion-type projects, we certainly do all of our predictions on what might happen to our various emission sources and water needs and things like that for the site,” said Joffre Site Manager Rick Van Hemmen.
“From an environmental perspective, especially when you talk about a modification to our polyethylene facilities, it really is a very modest change to our environmental footprint for the site. We’re really basing this growth on existing capacity in our ethylene plants on the site.”
Van Hemmen explained NOVA’s expansion of the polyethylene reactor site (PE1 project) will keep things such as their longterm water usage and gaseous emission predictions still well within a previously designated limit that has been approved by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
He explained although there will be a small increase in air emissions and water usage, the work done to re-model furnaces and to input a highly energy efficient PE1 reactor will, “Have no adverse effects that will affect our land boundary or the Red Deer River.”
The work done with the PE1 expansion on the Joffre site has undergone environmental monitoring and will continue to do so.
Van Hemmen said that NOVA is, “Looking at wherever (they) can to find the best commercially available technology and mitigate any potential environmental effects. We have built into our site monitoring programs, longterm programs – air monitoring equipment at various locations throughout the site and we really will continue to make sure that we’re staying well within our environmental restrictions.
“We stay very plugged into our surrounding communities. For one thing, so they can understand the things we’ve tried to do as proactively as possible but also to get their insights and inputs,” he said. “They might be concerned at what they’re seeing as the projects go on, but we have a constant back and forth with our community members.”
So far, the facilities have seen the completion of underground piping, the development of mechanical and electrical installations and currently, a focus on the installation of concrete foundations for the third reactor which was successfully delivered to the site earlier this year.
At the completion of this project in 2016, NOVA expects to see the creation of between 25-35 permanent jobs, significant economic benefits due to more efficient reactor sites and furnaces and a capital cost just over $1 billion – most of which is being spent on Alberta labour costs and product purchasing done in Alberta.
“In order to allow the expansion of PE1 to operate at its full capacity, E1 and E2 will have to come up to 100 per cent rates and run there continuously in the future. But it turns out our E2 plant had some very significant maintenance requirements in our furnace area. Those furnaces in E2 were built back in 1984 and some portions of that furnace are going to need to be cut out and replaced because they are at the end of life.
“This was an opportunity for us for furnace refurbishment to bring our furnace capacity and our technology up. We also are doing this in a way that allows us to implement energy efficient improvements and so these are important upgrades for us. It’s typically in expansion projects or major capital upgrades that we have the opportunity to do these types of upgrades.”
The portions of the furnaces that need to be replaced are in a section that is designed to recover as much residual heat out of the furnace as possible, making it less wasteful. As these convection sections are being replaced, the burners in the furnaces will also see work to become what is called ‘low-NOx burners’, said Van Hemmen.
This means that less of the various oxides of nitrogen will be released into the environment during the combustion process of the furnaces. These oxides are air pollutants that help form acid rain, contribute to global warming and impede the growth of plant life.
In addition to the project’s focus on efficient production standards, sustainability has been a focus of NOVA Chemicals. As the PE1 Expansion Project moves along, so will the PE1 Expansion Legacy Project which is the proactive development of several wetland areas surrounding the Joffre site.
“We have a very strong refocus on sustainability within NOVA Chemicals over the last couple of years. We are a responsible care company and we have been for almost 30 years now. That’s really about going above and beyond meeting regulatory standards, and always taking on continuous improvements. The whole responsible care initiative has added sustainability as a bigger subset of its requirements for people that are members of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada.”
The purpose of the legacy project is to create a trail system that incorporates picnic areas, reforestation initiatives and to support municipal and provincial initiatives to preserve and enhance wetland areas.
The PE1 Expansion Project is set to be complete with start-up occurring in the summer of 2016.