Working with industry

Dunkirk’s industrial waste heat network


The idea of creating an industrial waste heat network in Dunkirk, a port and industrial city in northern France, and in the neighbouring town of Saint-Pol sur Mer, dates back to the 1970s’ oil price increase. The economic crisis of the 1980s and its repercussions on the unemployment rate confirmed that supplying energy at a controlled price in an area where heating is so important was a precondition to tackling fuel poverty.

In 1982, a sociotechnical survey confirmed that the most cost-efficient solution was recovering waste heat generated at the Usinorplant. (Four potential sources were compared: a coal-fired boiler, the recovery of steel production gas from Usinor blast furnaces, the recovery of heat produced by the Gravelines nuclear plant and recovery of Usinor waste heat). Both municipalities joined together to set up SICURD (Dunkirk intercommunity district heating council) in 1983. In 1985, the agreement between the city of Dunkirk and the steelworks’owner Usinor (now Arcelor-Mittal- known as Usinor until February 2002 and Arcelor until June 2006 ) led to the installation of a 23 MW capture hood at the steelworks and to the beginning of the construction of a heat network, which went into service one year later.

The Compagnie générale de chauffe (which became Dalkia in 1998 and is now part of the EDF group) was in charge of overseeing operations as part of the concession contract signed with the city council.

The extension of the heat network

At the beginning of the 2000s, the prospectof increasedenergy demand resulted in a reflexion on the expansion of the network, which had already been upgraded with the addition of three CHP units and a second 13 MW capture hood at the steelworks. Although the first network connection owes a lot to the determination of Michel Delebarre, President of SICURD and Mayor of Dunkirk, the second was a joint project.

For SICURD, the objective was to guarantee a reduced 5% VAT rate in the event of a network extension. To qualify, 50% of the network heat had to be produced from renewable and recovered sources. For Arcelor-Mittal, installing a hood at the exit of the sinter strands made it possible to recover process dust and thus was a solution to meeting clean environmental requirements. The hood installed in 2008 thus integrated environmental considerations.

At around the same time, the City and the Urban Community of Dunkirk developed a strategic plan aimed at doubling the heat network (an additional 140MW). The network extension project dates back to 2010.

The feasibility study conducted by Hexa Ingénierie and submitted in 2013 considered population densities and the various heat production sources. It was finally decided that heat sources should be diversified and a project for connecting the CVE, the waste-to-energy processing plant also operated by CDU, to the heat networkwas developed.

As part of this strategic plan and in compliance with the French urban areas’ public action modernisation and reinforcement law (the so-called MAPTAM law), CUD regained authority over the heat network. The Urban Community is therefore now responsible for overseeing the smooth running of this public service operated by Energie Grand Littoral (a 100% Dalkia subsidiary created to operate the network) and for interacting with stakeholders brought closer by 30 years of positive experience.

The dialogue between CUD and the various local stakeholders (wasteheat producers and users of the heat network)

Arcelor-Mittal and other industrial plant owners in the Dunkirk area

On a daily basis, the City Council of Dunkirk, and now CUD, the Urban Community Council, do not have much contact with industrial companies (CUD regained control of the heat network only recently, on 1st January 2015. Before that, the network was jointly managed by the city of Dunkirk and SICURD). as routine relations with Arcelor-Mittal are handled by Energie Grand Littoral (EGL), the company holding the network concession. Their successful involvement in the waste heat project, however, is to be put to the credit of both local authorities. At the end of the 1980s, the development of closer relations between Arcelor-Mittal and the President of SICURD, who was also Mayor of Dunkirk, had a lot do to with the personalities involved, but other factors also played apart.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Dunkirk area was the stronghold of powerful environmental associations which questioned the massive tax incentives offered to polluting industries to encourage them to set up local plants, with no regard for the environment or air quality. Arcelor-Mittal was one of these industries, with its blast furnaces and dark, thick fumes identifying it as a major polluter. In this context, the steel making company put a lot of efforts into improving its relations with local stakeholders from an environmental point of view. Its participation in the heat network may therefore be seen as an expression of goodwill and a way of maintaining good relations with local people: the political dimension here is undeniable.

Moreover, Arcelor-Mittal(AM) did not invest in the first capture system: it was the concession holder that invested, on behalf of the city council, the owner of the network. As regards the second system, AM and Dalkia paid for half of the investment each. This type of set-up is fairly exceptional: as previously mentioned, Arcelor-Mittal was under pressure from the Regional Environment, Space Planning and Housing Directorate (DREAL) and therefore extremely keen to take environmental and regulatory measures.

Whereas the local authority originally started the heat network as a way to tackle energy poverty, it is now also part of along-term, overall strategy aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the share of renewable energy in the energy mix as part of the“3×20” by 2020 objective (a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990, a 20% increase in the share of renewable energy and a 20% increase in energy efficiency by 2020) set out in the Urban Community climate and energy plan (2009). Thanks to the massive use of unavoidable energy, the heat network has turned into a strategic tool for reaching the 20% renewable energy target (this includes unavoidable energy under the term “renewable and recovered energy”) by 2020.

The heat network is fairly unique in that the local authority and Arcelor-Mittal have succeeded in reconciling their operational dynamics and time horizons, aligning their synergies despite different long-term visions. Risks may still exist however with respect to the sustainability of the partnership.

The network extension feasibility study conducted by Hexa Ingénieriein 2012-2013 was spurred by the fact that almost 70% of the heat network depended on one single industrial company, AM, which in turn relied heavily on market conditions and international capital. In this context, how could the long-term existence of the network be ensured? The study examined the diversification potential of diverse heat sources and identified 13 industrial waste heat sources and potential connections (private homes, industrial parks).

The heat network is such a success that Dalkia has investigated the possibility of connecting other industrial plants to the network. Some surveys have been commissioned by ADEME on a regional level.

Discussions between industrial companies and CUD have been facilitated by the existence of Ecopal, a network of over 200 industries from the Dunkirk area promoting industrial ecology. Created in 2001 on a proposal byArcelor-Mittal, the association originally aimed at pooling waste management resources. Its attempts at developing tangible synergies
between industrialists have never truly materialised but its role as network facilitator has contributed to promoting a culture of exchange in the area, with Arcelor-Mittalas the central hub.

In fact, the industry no longer needed to be convinced of the benefits of the heat network highlighted by the experiment with Arcelor-Mittal in terms of additional revenues, environmental performance and corporate image (These benefits should be put into perspective: financial and CO2 savings are almost nil. At AM, only about 0.3% of unavoidable energy is recovered – survey carried out in 2013. This explains why AM communicates very little on the heat network compared to CUD.  In return, the local authority is making good progress in its ambition to tackle fuel poverty (served by a dense gas network, many inhabitants in the Dunkirk area continue to use fuel oil heating) and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its territory.

Several extension scenarios have been envisaged, notably with Rio Tinto Alcan and Ball Packaging. But the waste-to-energy plant already operated by CUD however appears to be the most reliable solution, with no uncertainty as to its future.