From tip of the iceberg to complete solution

Every day, hundreds of Tata Steel employees are directly involved in the company’s biggest sustainability challenge to date. Project Manager Vincent Waanders and Programme Manager Tjeerd Meenks talk about this enormous task, working with parties such as Iv, and the magnifying glass under which Tata Steel finds itself: ‘It’s nice to be able to explain to people that we really are working on it’.


We have to go back to 2018 to understand why Roadmap Plus, the comprehensive programme to reduce the environmental impact of substances, odours and noise, was created. In that year, the coastal town of Wijk aan Zee was in the news because of the so-called ‘graphite rain’. The name says it all: graphite particles were raining down on the environment, which led to investigations by the RIVM, among others.


That was the moment for Tata Steel to take action, says Tjeerd Meenks, Roadmap Plus Programme Manager since that year. “We were receiving a lot of complaints from the surrounding community. And although we were (and are) complying with legislation and regulations, inconvenience was experienced. The graphite rain was a symbol of this.”

Making a greater impact

The steel company set up three pillars to tackle the problem: odour, noise and dust. “Our first thought was: we need to stop this”, says Tjeerd. A budget of 100 million euros was set aside to reduce odour, dust and noise emissions. However, this budget was quickly spent. In 2020, Tata Steel reviewed the first measures that were taken. Tjeerd: “We hoped we had made a sufficient impact, but it was just the tip of the iceberg. We immediately started to work on the follow-up plan.”


This follow-up was given the name Roadmap Plus, which is familiar to Iv. The largest part of this is the environmental installation at the pellet factory. This installation consists of two parts: the dedusting installation and the DeNOx installation. The first is currently being installed and will be operational by the end of this year. The DeNOx installation is the last ‘trick’ from the Roadmap Plus. It will reduce nitrogen (NOx) emissions by 30 percent from the entire site. The dedusting installation will help reduce emissions of particulate matter (around 35 percent), heavy metals (55 percent) and lead (70 percent). Tata Steel adds that these percentages will be validated through external assessments.

A good neighbour

Of course, reducing emissions is a crucial condition for rounding off the business case. Because not being profitable means closing down. This scenario also applies if sustainability is not achieved and emissions of gases, odours and substances are not reduced. In this sense, being a ‘good neighbour’ is also required in such a process, says Tjeerd. “This is a standard, although it is difficult to translate into specific requirements and figures. But what we mean by that is: for whatever may be mandatory in 5 or 10 years from now, couldn’t we better take that on now to help the environment?”


Vincent Waanders is the Roadmap Plus Project Manager at Tata Steel’s engineering company (PTC). He further explains the route outlined by Tjeerd. The route chosen was the one with the quickest environmental impact. “The design process and delivery times for the DeNOx installation are taking a long time, which is why it will not be ready until 2025. We have decided to install the dedusting installation in advance to see the effect of it.”


There is plainly a lot going on, both in public and behind the scenes. The external pressure and the call to proceed even faster are just as evident. Vincent: “Of course, it is a subject often discussed at birthday gatherings. It’s nice to be able to explain to people that we really are working on it. Engineers are very close to the action and see it with their own eyes, but those further away perceive it less well. So, it’s important that we keep repeating the message that we are working hard to become greener, cleaner and more sustainable. This will work in the long term, but in the short term, we have to accept the misunderstanding and frustration.”

Understanding risks

So, just keep going. This is a challenge because while the terrain is constantly changing, the processes have to be able to continue. “The complexity of this task is present in all dimensions”, Vincent continues. The whole project has a brownfield character. This means: close to the operational activities within which Tata Steel must implement all these changes. “So you cannot work freely. That has a direct impact on how you approach and complete the engineering. It is, therefore, genuinely nice to work with engineering parties like Iv that understand the risks and how to bring this to a successful outcome together.”


Iv has been working on the Tata Steel site for years. This knowledge is vital, according to Vincent. “The fact that we have been working together for years makes a difference. We have a long-term relationship with Iv, so a quick word is often sufficient. It is very nice to work with external parties that know the site inside and out, have their own networks and know whom to contact. It saves us a lot of work, prevents misunderstandings and has a way of working well. To put it bluntly, even if we asked Iv the wrong question, we would still get the right answer, purely because of their expertise and experience.”


The dedusting installation will be operational later this year. A milestone for Tata Steel and a visual change for the site. Vincent: “The greatest satisfaction will come at Christmas when the installation is put into operation. Next year, I will have been with the company for 25 years and this operational launch will certainly be a highlight of my years of service.” The project manager is well aware that this is a big deal, not only for the environment but also for the steel company’s employees. “Everyone wants to make this a success. These kinds of milestones are really free fuel for team spirit and loyalty. It feels like it contributes to the final solution.”


The Roadmap Plus programme is nearing completion, but the work is far from over. Over the next few years, Tata Steel will continue to invest heavily in the path to green steel via Project HeraCless, which is also underway. Iv will also play a major role in preparing the site and making it ready for the eventual installation of the Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) plant, which will be used to make green steel.


These are long-term processes. “But giving up is never an option”, they both declare. “We will succeed. The implications for the continuity of Tata Steel are enormous. Not just for our jobs but for the entire chain. People learn a trade here, and it stimulates the economy. The preservation of knowledge, training and craftsmanship is extremely important. This is about much more than making steel sheets.”


Would you like to know more?

Rick, managing director Heavy Industries, will be pleased to tell you more. Contact him via +31 88 943 3000 or send Rick an email.

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