Simcoa wins with flexible approach

THREE years ago Simcoa Operations was in big trouble with the WA Forest Alliance, the Conservation Council of WA, Greens WA and numerous koala-suited protesters.

Simcoa had an annual 150,000-tonne jarrah residue log allocation from the State Government, 120,000 tonnes of which it burned to produce low ash charcoal for its Kemerton plant, 160 kilometres south of Perth.

Now, after extensive negotiations with stakeholders, the silicon producer uses only 40,000 tonnes each year.

“We became a lot more flexible,” Simcoa general manager operations and public affairs, Jim Brosnan, said.

Simcoa had developed a policy, when setting up in WA in 1989, to use lower grade saw grade timber or sawmill offcuts.

However, eventually the logs coming in were good quality, and the Conservation Council and the WA Forest Allliance were of the view that the need to supply Simcoa was driving the logging process.

Simcoa agreed not to take any logs from old growth forests, but the problem was not entirely fixed.

How could one prove green logs were not felled expressly to supply Simcoa?

So from June 2001, Simcoa stopped taking green logs as well, Mr Brosnan said.

It now sources more waste wood, taking offcuts from any mill south of Perth, Mr Brosnan said, and using much larger quantities of residues, including marri residues.

Simcoa has also initiated the blocking of logs on cleared South West mine sites.

The company still has its 150,000 tonne contract allocation, but delivers 60,000 tonnes to mills for value-adding, and buys back the 50 per cent residue.

It also delivers low-grade green logs left on forest floors to the mills.

“Plus we’ve improved efficiencies on site,” Mr Brosnan said.

“We now use 10 per cent less wood per tonne of charcoal.

“It’s all been a good example of open communication.

“The use of jarrah for charcoal is now accepted so long as only genuine residues are used.

“Plus it is now accepted as a greener option to the use of more coal.”

Greens WA MLC Christine Sharp agreed Simcoa had been “really trying to do the right thing”, in reducing its jarrah use to half what it was originally using.

Simcoa, which bags its silica fume for use in concrete strengthening and industrial refractories, and delivers its charcoal fines to Collie for the production of barbeque briquettes, is also looking to use its waste heat.

The world market for silicon – used in photovoltaics, optical glass, electronics, polymers and aluminium strengthening – is tight, but Simcoa is hoping to boost capacity by 50 per cent with a third furnace once State electricity reforms deliver sufficiently reduced power tariffs, Mr Brosnan said.

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