South 32’s Hillside Aluminum Smelter
Located within the uMhlathuze Municipality in Richards Bay, Kwazulu Natal, South 32’s Hillside Aluminium Smelter has a production capacity of 720 million tonnes annually, making it the largest producer of primary aluminum in the Southern Hemisphere.
In March 2016 the uMhalathuze Municipality instituted the highest level of water restrictions across the region in response to the persistent drought, failing water treatment infrastructure and increasing demand. Dependent on large quantities of high quality process water to run operations, the smelter needed to find a new source of water quickly or run the risk of closure.
As the smelter is South Africa’s biggest aluminum exporter responsible for 10% of the region’s GDP, the social-economic ramifications of the smelter closing down were massive and had to be avoided at all cost.
Given the smelter’s proximity to the Richards Bay Harbour and the existence of basic reticulation infrastructure to and from the harbour; a seawater desalination plant was identified as the best way to avert the impending crisis.
NuWater’s mobile, modular and scalable seawater desalination plant enabled rapid deployment and installation on site. The plant comprised screen filtration, lamella plate clarification, ultrafiltration (UF) and reverse osmosis (RO), with a production capacity of 2 million litres a day. Purchased by the Municipality on a sale basis, NuWater remains responsible for the operation, maintenance and remote monitoring of the plant.
From inception to completion – including civil engineering, design, manufacturing, delivery, installation and commissioning – NuWater’s desalination plant was operational within 28 weeks. This was achieved by leveraging NuWater’s manufacturing facilities in Cape Town and implementing an experienced project execution and operations team.
To date, the plant has successfully reclaimed and reused seawater with dynamically varying feed water quality from Richards Bay Harbour to produce high quality and quantities of industrial process water essential for the continued operation of the smelter.
From a socio economic perspective, NuWater’s smart water treatment solution meant the smelter remained operational, preventing the loss of 20 000 jobs that would directly or indirectly affect 80 000 people. Furthermore, South Africa was saved from becoming a net-importer of aluminum, which would have cost the economy 4 billion rand annually.
With a sustainable re-source of water available, the Hillside Aluminum smelter was no longer a burden on diminishing municipal water sources, enabling them to continue to meet the needs of residents and businesses across the region.