EU funding for Elmo treatment plant

15 October 2003

Elmo Leather will become the first leather manufacturer to reduce nitrogen emissions by 80% by investing around SEK40 million (US$5 million) in a new treatment plant at Svenljunga. Provided all the permits are granted, Elmo Leather estimate that they can start building the new treatment plant this month (October) and be up and running from autumn 2004, considerably reducing the company's environmental impact. The investment will depend on the county administrative board authorising the expansion of the production limit at Svenljunga from the current 3.5 million sq m to 4.5 million sq m of finished leather. The project is based on new technology for the biological treatment of the company's wastewater and has been recognised by the EU environmental fund, LIFE, via a grant of SEK9 million ($1.3 million). Wastewater from the tannery is filtered through a nitrification/de-nitrification process. The technology has been tested by the municipal sewage treatment works but until now has never been applied to the tanning industry. Nitrogen emissions are expected to fall by 80% compared with the normal 30% using traditional treatment methods for tannery wastewater. The current method for reducing nitrogen pollution in wastewater from the tanning industry consists of a combination of chemical and biological treatment. The new technology that Elmo intend introducing uses a process of nitrification/de-nitrification which is an advanced form of a completely biological treatment. This means that water pollutants are broken down using the micro-organisms that exist in the wastewater. This occurs in a series of processes where wastewater is treated step-by-step in separated, but linked, tank systems. The first link in the system consists of an oxygen infusion tank where micro-organisms live and grow. During the second link the wastewater is oxygenated, which starts the nitrification process where nitrogen (NH4-N), mainly in the form of ammonia, is oxidised into nitrate (NO3-N). The supply of oxygen is cut during the following de-nitrification process and nitrate is reduced into nitrogen gas (N2). The nitrogen gas is emitted into the atmosphere, which consists of 79% nitrogen gas. In simple terms, this new purification technology means that the micro-organisms in the wastewater are first allowed to grow and multiply. To survive they are forced to use up nitrogen pollutants due to the lack of oxygen. The result is that the dominating part (around 80%) of the pollutants disappear because they have been reduced to nitrogen gas, ie the same gas that dominates the atmosphere. Until the new plant reaches full capacity, the company's wastewater will continue to be treated at the municipal sewage works. In the long term, Elmo Leather expect the investment to benefit the company by highlighting their environmental profile. 'In the short term, our profitability will not benefit but, over the longer term, we believe that the project will strengthen our competitive edge and position on in the market by emphasising Elmo as a more environmentally aware company', says Nalle Johansson, president and ceo of Elmo Leather AB. The EU's environmental fund LIFE makes environmental protection and nature conservation grants within the European Union. The main purpose of LIFE is to drive the implementation and development of the EU's environmental policy by supporting pilot projects that illustrate innovative technologies or methods. A LIFE project should serve as a good example and turn environmental policies into practical action. Elmo applied for, and have been granted, €1 million from LIFE for building the new plant. The Commission granted 104 of 530 applications (20%), illustrating the stiff competition for funds. The company have produced a preliminary technical design of the plant based on laboratory tests. The design will be planned in detail and the plant built following a detailed test programme where special attention is paid to the sensitive nitrification/de-nitrification processes. The company have also guaranteed that for 18 months, to May 2006, they will measure the effectiveness of the plant and distribute information about the results to other tanners and other relevant industries (ie textile and paper).

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