Nyrstar stores energy in giant battery in Balen

Commodity trader Trafigura is building a giant energy storage battery at the zinc producer Nyrstar’s factory site in Balen. It concerns an investment of 30 million euros.

The 25 megawatt lithium ion battery can provide 100 megawatt hours of power in four hours. That corresponds to the consumption of about 30 families. It will be one of the largest energy storage batteries in the country.

The stored energy comes from the surplus of the Belgian grid and from the Kristal Solar Park in Lommel. With 303,000 panels and a production capacity of 85,000 megawatt hours (the annual consumption of 25,000 families), this 93-hectare solar park is the largest in the Benelux. Nyrstar invested in that gigapark together with the Limburg investment company LRM and the city of Lommel. Some of these panels are located at the Nyrstar site in Balen, near Lommel.

‘Part of the stored energy will be used in our zinc production process and part will be injected into the national grid,’ says factory manager Inge Schildermans.

30 million euros

Trafigura is investing EUR 30 million in a mega battery for energy storage at the Nyrstar site in Balen.

Trafigura, which acquired ailing Nyrstar in 2019, is building the battery through its green energy subsidiary Nala Renewables. It wants to build up a renewable energy portfolio of 2 gigawatts over the next five years.

Construction of the battery will start in the first half of this year and should be completed next year. ‘With the investment we are responding to the greening of our production process,’ says Schildermans, ‘and we are trying to reduce our energy bill.’ Energy is a major cost item for Nyrstar. With a consumption of 120 megawatts per hour, Nyrstar Balen – once owned by Umicore – accounts for 1.3 percent of Belgian electricity consumption.

Green projects

“The new battery is not Nyrstar’s only recent green energy project,” said spokeswoman Fabienne Buvens. In Lommel, the zinc smelter participates in a windmill park, in Pelt in a windmill and solar park. The Budel zinc factory, 40 kilometers away, just across the Dutch border, is linked to a solar park the size of 120 football fields. There too, Nyrstar was responsible for part of the investment.

Trafigura has been accused by Nyrstar’s minority shareholders of taking over the zinc smelter in a sneaky way and at a bargain price. The commodity trader denies that and the lawsuits are ongoing. But that ‘putsch’, as some call it, does lead to tens of millions of euros being invested in the European Nyrstar factories after years of ‘neglect’.

With the investment we are responding to the greening of our production process.

Inge Schildermans

Factory Director of Nyrstar in Balen

The 130-year-old zinc smelter in Balen was recently – just like the Dutch and French smelter – new electrofilters for the purification of gas flows. Last year, investments were made in the expansion of the zinc powder factory. A zinc oxide hub was started up in neighboring Pelt to recover zinc oxide waste for Nyrstar’s European smelters.

‘We are also working on a cooling water project in Balen in which we separate dirty water and rainwater so that we only have to clean the dirty water,’ says Schildermans.

“We are a long-term investor, not a financing club that will set everything up for a quick sale afterwards,” said Guido Janssen, vice president of European operations, last year at the zinc powder plant expansion. ‘We want to become a state-of-the-art producer again.’

Trafigura is one of the largest commodity traders in the world. Founded in 1993, with headquarters in Singapore and European headquarters in Geneva, the group is active in the extraction, storage, transportation and supply of raw materials ranging from oil and gas to metals and minerals. The group has factories in Europe, America and Australia.
In 2019, Trafigura acquired the ailing Belgian listed zinc group Nyrstar for a symbolic euro. Around that takeover are lawsuits with minority shareholders who say they have been robbed. Trafigura has 8,500 employees in 48 countries and 850 shareholders. Over the past 17 years, sales have increased from $ 12 billion to $ 147 billion. Last year gross profit was posted at $ 6.8 billion.

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