The Olin Chlor Alkali Charleston plant is moving forward with its plans to end its use of mercury, production manager Ben Craig told Bradley Sunrise Rotary members in a recent breakfast session.
“Olin is committed to being out of the mercury business by the end this year,” Craig said.
The company made the decision to replace the current mercury-based system with membrane electrolyzer technology back in 2010.
“We’ve been operating now in Bradley County for 50 years,” Craig said. “So, it’s nice to get this overhaul.”
The new process will use 25 percent less electricity than the current mercury-based system.
In preparation to begin using the new technology, the company reconstructed one of its buildings to accommodate the new equipment.
“Our construction people would tell you that this project is really a piping project. From the labor side, about 70 percent of it is all pipes,” Craig said. “We’re excited to be doing this at our plant. It means that we’re set to stay here another 50 years.”
With the new system comes changes to the chemical process. Craig said the membrane technology requires purer water to be used in the salt brine process. The current mercury based system allows the plant to use water with a high calcium content. However, such water could damage the membrane used in the new system. The new process will also increase the quality of the chlorine the plant produces, according to Craig.
Also as a part of the company’s upgrade the plant is getting a new computer system.
“We’re reorganizing our whole operating structure,” Craig said.
Olin Chlor Alkali is the largest merchant producer of chlorine in the United States.
The majority of the chlorine produced at Olin is sold to companies that make vinyl and pool chemicals. Some of Olin’s customers include Resolute Forest Products, Kimberly Clark and Lonza. Soon, Waker Polysilicon North America will also become a customer.
“Our process is we take salt water, add electricity, then from that we primarily make chlorine, hydrogen and caustic soda,” Craig said.
A byproduct of the chlorine process is caustic soda. The new process produces this substance at a lower concentration than what Olin needs in order to sell it. Craig said this has necessitated using an evaporation process to create the concentration needed.
Bromine is another byproduct of the chlorine process.
Training for the new system has already begun with 5,000 hours of cross-training being completed.