New Membrane Electrolysis Plant Chlorine Enters a New Dimension

Author / Editor: Anke Geipel-Kern / Anke Geipel-Kern

Chlorine production at the new Akzo Nobel membrane electrolysis plant in Frankfurt is significantly more efficient and output capacity has been increased by 50 %. This is the first time that Uhde zero–gap technology is being used at a European site.

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Aerial view of the site at the Industriepark Hoechst
Aerial view of the site at the Industriepark Hoechst
(Picture: Akzo Nobel)

Official openings at production plants have their own unique script. However long it may have taken to get the final go-ahead for the project, when all is said and done everyone is highly satisfied with the outcome. Politicians are among the invited guests who come to hear the profuse expressions of gratitude and praise, and the event is an occasion to celebrate with customers, suppliers and company employees.

The official opening ceremony at the 140 million euro chlorine membrane electrolysis plant at the Höchst Industrial Park was no exception. The new Hesse Minister for Economic Affairs Tarel-Al Wazir, a member of the Green Party, found himself in the unusual position of extolling the virtues of a new chlorine production plant.

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Akzo Nobel CEO Ton Büchner made the trip from Amsterdam to give the team in Frankfurt a verbal pat on the back. Büchner stated that the new production facility is more than just a new plant. It is a further step on the road to global and operational excellence. The company is constantly on the lookout for new and innovative ways of stimulating customer growth. In his address, he also expressed a commitment to production in Germany and took a mild sideswipe at the political establishment by issuing a firm reminder of the need for a concerted approach to renewable energy.

Plant Manager Erhard Leistner reminded everyone that the investment decision was not something to be taken for granted and that there had been many nerve–wrecking moments during the 13–year wait. He could even recall the exact time of day when the long-awaited call finally came from Amsterdam.

Investment in the future

However following completion of the construction phase which took nearly 3 years, the plant is a genuine investment in the future. Annual chlorine production capacity has increased by 50 % from 165,000 tonnes to 250,000 tonnes. The Dutch producer is now well–positioned in the highly competitive European chlorine market. It is at the cutting edge, not just from the technology perspective.

Uhde’s zero–gap technology is the latest development in membrane technology and the first to be installed in Europe. The company claims that mounting the membranes without gaps reduces energy consumption by 30 % per tonne of production and cuts water consumption by 20 %. Work has been underway in Frankfurt since 2012 and the installation team is now adding the final touches.

Fully automated processes

During the tour of the industrial park, the visitors were told that placement of the membranes is a delicate task and has to be done on site. A new salt storage area located next to the cell room eliminates salt emissions. 1000 tonnes of ultra–pure common salt per day (425,000 tonnes per year) are fed into the 8 electrolyzers.

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The process is fully automated and there is no need for manual intervention. The Dutch company has five other chloralkali plants which are located in Rotterdam, Delfzii, Bitterfeld and Ibbenbüren. All are based on membrane technology. The traditional amalgam process is only used in Ibbenbüren. Total European chlorine production is an impressive 1.2 million t/a. Akzo Nobel supplies 10 % of total European demand (12.3 million tonnes). The company claims to be number one in Europe.

* The author is PROCESS Managing Editor.