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updated 6:54 AM SAST, Mar 14, 2031
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AfriSam drives environmental stewardship and sustainability

AfriSam signalled its seriousness about its environmental stewardship over 15 years ago with the introduction of its first environmental policy in 1994. AfriSam operates this drive towards ‘greening’ the industry at several different levels simultaneously, making it a leader in environmentally responsible cement and concrete manufacturing in southern Africa.

“Environmental stewardship is a business imperative for all companies today, and indeed at AfriSam our continued focus on this aspect of sustainability has seen best practice initiatives implemented across our operations,” says Nivashni Govender, environmental specialist at AfriSam.

Significantly, AfriSam was the first cement, aggregate and readymix producer in southern Africa to publish an environmental policy in 1994. Today, the organisation has a comprehensive sustainability roadmap which covers a broad range of focus areas, including waste management, water conservation, biodiversity conservation, emissions reduction and energy management.

The company has established performance indicators that continuously monitor and track compliance to the company’s sustainability roadmap targets.

Biodiversity conservation
Mine rehabilitation is an area where AfriSam had led industry with mine rehabilitation plans for all the company’s quarries completed in 1984. This was followed by the establishment of a dedicated Nature Conservation Trust in 1986 to provide funding for the closure of these mines.

“Rehabilitation of land impacted by AfriSam’s mining activities is not just a legal requirement but a moral obligation, and this level of long-term planning by AfriSam demonstrates a commitment that will ensure that land can be returned to a self-sustainable landform to be enjoyed by future generations,” Govender says.

AfriSam actively practices concurrent rehabilitation at its sites where possible which is in line with its policy to restore mined-out land to as close to its original state as possible. In many instances alternative use is found for the land such as turning it into reservoirs, dams or recreational facilities.

Environmental stewardship also requires that a company is proactive when considering its impact on the environment and this has been the case in Saldanha Bay.

AfriSam has received approval from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning for the construction of an integrated cement manufacturing facility on the Saldanha Peninsula in the Western Cape. This piece of land, owned by AfriSam, contains pristine vegetation of exceptional conservation value and therefore needs to be adequately protected to prevent extinction of these rare species of flora.

To ensure the sustainability of the relevant flora, Govender says AfriSam has set aside over 500 ha of the land it owns in Saldanha for conservation purposes. This land has received contract nature reserve status, the highest level of stewardship, and underscores AfriSam’s commitment to conserving natural resources, including flora, for future generations.

Perhaps one of the least known and exceptional examples of AfriSam’s commitment to environmental stewardship is that of the significant archaeological and paleontological finds at its Sterkfontein quarry near the Cradle of Mankind. In this exceptional case, when AfriSam discovered the find it took a business decision to cease all mining operations in the interest of preserving this human heritage site. It has rehabilitated the area and is in the process of donating it to the University of Witwatersrand for further promotion of education.

Water conservation
“The current water crisis has featured prominently in headlines recently, but conserving water is not something new for AfriSam,” Govender says. “We have long been implementing measures to reduce water consumption. All operations have water balances in place which allow for optimisation of the resource, and we practice recycling of grey water, which reduces reliance on fresh water.” An example Govender cites is the AfriSam readymix operations which specifically use as much grey water as possible for batching purposes.

Waste management
Apart from water, recycling is extended to other areas of the business and to minimise concrete waste returned, it is recycled at AfriSam’s readymix facilities. This is used to manufacture interlocking concrete blocks and paving stones which are then used at AfriSam’s facilities for various other applications. In doing this, waste that would normally go to landfill sites is eliminated.

An active campaign in the organisation encourages AfriSam employees to recycle paper, plastics, batteries and fluorescent tubes. “The programme is aimed at entrenching a culture among our employees of being environmentally responsible not just at the office, but at home as well,” Govender says.

Energy reduction and the use of Alternative Fuel Resources (AFRs)
Marieta Buckle, process engineer at AfriSam, says that an important part of sustainability is the need to reduce energy consumption and this is an imperative for AfriSam. “AfriSam has set itself stringent targets aimed at reducing energy consumption as well as converting to alternative fuel and alternative energy sources.”

Explaining the process, Buckle says limestone together with additional additives is converted into clinker in a kiln process. “To produce clinker requires temperatures in excess of 1,450°C – meaning that vast amounts of thermal fuels, such as coal, are used.

This ultimately results in large volumes of CO2 emissions. Our main focus, when it comes to reducing this environmental impact, is on reducing the amount of thermal fuel used to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted.”

“Another lever that AfriSam can use to reduce total carbon emissions is utilising waste material instead of coal. Use of alternative fuels in cement kilns is widely practiced globally and AfriSam has started utilising various alternative fuels,” she says. “Similarly, to reduce the consumption of natural resources, the additives required in the clinker process as well as in cement manufacturing can be replaced with alternative resources such as phosphogypsum, boiler ash, magnetite, granulated blastfurnace slag and fly ash.

“A critical part of reducing energy consumption is to continue optimising our processes,” Buckle says. AfriSam saw a significant reduction in energy consumption in 2015 as a result of implementing new high-level control systems at its clinker-producing plants. “These systems facilitate more stable operating conditions and eliminate potential human error. It enables continuous monitoring of operational parameters and makes incremental changes to ensure the most optimum process conditions prevail.”

In addition, AfriSam is in the process of implementing a waste heat recovery system at its cement manufacturing facility in the Northern Cape. The high temperature of the clinker manufacturing process produces large volumes of high-temperature air which leaves the kiln system. Buckle explains that the energy in this hot air stream can be recovered and used.

The waste heat recovery system uses the hot air to heat a liquid, this liquid is evaporated and drives a turbine to generate electricity. “Use of this electricity will reduce our consumption from the national grid and it is another example how AfriSam leverages technology to positively repurpose waste products.

Electricity generated by the waste heat recovery system is generated with zero increase to AfriSam’s carbon footprint. However, if it was consumed from the grid it would have carried the carbon footprint from Eskom. This, therefore, reduces the overall CO2 emissions in the country,” Buckle says.

Buckle says AfriSam has also committed to the implementation of energy management systems. “To increase the focus on energy, we have introduced a standalone energy policy whereas previously it was addressed as part of the environmental policy. It stipulates AfriSam’s clear commitment to achieve reductions in energy consumption and covers all operational aspects of the business.

Emissions reduction
AfriSam was responsible for pioneering kiln emission improvement in southern Africa. “We chalked up an impressive number of firsts including being the first producer to install Continuous Emission Measuring equipment capable of measuring 13 gas streams on a continuous basis. We were also the first producer to conduct regular metal and dioxin and furan emission measurements in stack emissions. AfriSam was also the first in the industry to install bag-house filter technology for kiln emissions,” Buckle says.

Another focus for AfriSam is to optimise the utilisation of mineral components or extenders in its final cement products. The utilisation of mineral components reduces the overall consumption of clinker, which therefore eliminates the CO2 emissions that form part of the clinker manufacturing process. An example of this is Eco Building Cement which has the lowest measured carbon footprint in South Africa. This product is a blend of high-performance cement and reactive mineral components with excellent cementitious properties and is produced using a unique combination of portland cement and mineral components and is the most environmentally friendly cementitious product.

AfriSam has been actively participating in the carbon budget process being run by the Department of Environmental Affairs, and Buckle says this underpins the company’s commitment to the sustainable operation of its business and its drive towards reducing its carbon footprint.

AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture
Together with the South African Institute of Architects, AfriSam is the founding partner of the AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture.

Since 2009, the awards have grown into South Africa’s most prestigious sustainability awards, honouring outstanding achievements in sustainable architecture and creating public awareness and debate on architectural issues and sustainability in the built environment.

Entries for the 2015/2016 AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture, which closes at the end of March 2016, have introduced two new categories – Sustainable Products and Technology and Sustainable Social Programmes. More information about the awards and the submission of entries can be found on www.sustainabledesign.co.za.

AfriSam believes in ‘creating concrete possibilities’ for future generations by approaching sustainability in a holistic manner and investing in manufacturing processes and business practices that make a positive contribution towards conserving our planet.
More information from Maxine Nel, Tel: +27(0)11 670 5893 / www.afrisam.co.za

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