Heat batteries help industry become more sustainable
The concrete mixers come and go at Mebin in Europoort. Green and white strips, the colours of the Rotterdam flag, are displayed on the back of the rotating cement mixers. In addition to the familiar concrete production, Mebin is branching out in a new direction, with batteries. Batteries the size of a container that can store huge amounts of heat. Walter Speelman can't conceal his pride: "Heat that industry can make good use of here. The batteries will make the port even more sustainable!"
Walter Speelman is Technology, Sustainability and Product Development Manager. He has worked for Mebin since 1989. With a background in lab training, he is right at home at Mebin, the ready-mix concrete producer where innovation and sustainability are high priorities. "We produce ready-mixed concrete and transport it to construction sites. There are up to 7,000 recipes for concrete for different applications. From houses to skyscrapers and from road construction to sea walls. The product with the highest consumption in the world is water; concrete is the second highest."
Speelman's passion for concrete runs deep: "Concrete is the most sustainable product in the world. No product lasts as long as concrete. Look at the Colosseum in Rome. It's still standing, and how long has it been there?"
Heat in a battery
Mebin's latest innovation is the production of heat batteries with special concrete. Speelman: "The concrete can capture and store huge amounts of heat. Many industries add energy to their processes. They release heat, but usually the heat simply dissipates into the air, which is a waste. We put the heat that is released into the heat battery, store it there and when the production processes need it, we take the heat out again.
Besides innovation, cooperation is also an important pillar for Mebin. For example, the new technology was developed by Energynest, a start-up from Norway. Together with HeidelbergCement - Mebin's parent company - they designed a special concrete mixture called Heatcrete. The special mixture is characterised by extremely high thermal conductivity and can store heat in high temperatures for a long time. Speelman: "Mebin is the third link, which makes the heat storage units, or batteries. Here at our location in Rotterdam we pour the concrete in the special tubes inside the battery. The battery is a container filled with special conductive tubes. The job requires considerable precision. From a height of 6 meters we pour concrete into tubes with a diameter of 25 centimeters. The container is positioned on its side for this process. Seven days later, the concrete has hardened, and we lift the container into its normal position, after which it is ready for transport."
Plenty of opportunities for the port
But what use are batteries to the Port of Rotterdam? Speelman: "The battery offers many possibilities. We have lots of chemical industry giants and oil refineries in the port of Rotterdam. They consume energy in their processes and also generate heat. They can now store that heat and use it again when needed. It allows them to save on fossil fuels and reduce their CO2 footprint because emissions are many times lower. The heat batteries have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years, which makes them a good long-term investment. I think it is an ideal opportunity to make the port even more sustainable!"
Doing your bit with recycled concrete
Sustainability and a circular economy are important drivers for Mebin: "We simply have to do something about global warming. We try and do our bit as well by lowering our footprint and minimising emissions. In fact, everything that can be recycled is reused in our products. All the concrete that returns, and even the concrete that is demolished, we try to get back to our plants. We use it to make new concrete. Personally, I also think it is important to take these steps. It is obvious that things in the world are going in the wrong direction. I think that everyone who lives in this world should make a contribution, especially the companies that have many opportunities to do so. We have no choice. Let's try and create a better world."
Think big, dream about…
What else does Speelman hope to achieve with Mebin? "I dream that we will soon be able to produce concrete with zero CO2 emissions. It's what our customers want too; their aim, for example, is to build sustainable buildings. Right now, that's not possible as more innovations are needed. But, by my estimation, I think we will be CO2 neutral by 2040 and supply concrete with no footprint. That's really something I am looking forward to. But we can't do it alone. We need the cement industry, which is essential for the production of concrete. Cement is the binding agent for concrete, the glue so to speak. But cement is one of the industries that still has a high footprint. Nevertheless, together we are examining how we can reduce it. I am hopeful that it will work out."
Speelman emphasises that companies must support each other in the energy transition: "The only way to make progress is to help each other, no matter what industry you are in. You will not get there on your own. Don't hesitate to contact us to find out how we can help each other progress towards an amazing CO2-free world!"
What does the port of Rotterdam mean to Speelman? "I started in Waalhaven, the old port area. I just loved it, seeing the ships that arrive there. Now we are in the Europoort area where, of course, the large sea-going vessels moor and major industries are located. When I drive around here, I think, wow, what a metropolis this is, with so much industry, and everything runs so smoothly. That's what I like about Rotterdam, the 'don't talk the talk, but walk the walk' attitude, it's a way of life here.