OCP Group has made big advances in the reuse of wastewater and aims for 100% sustainability in water usage by 2030. In an exclusive interview with New African, Karim Saoud, Vice-President in charge of Water and Energy within the Group’s Sustainability Platform, describes the progress made so far and the Group’s ambitious plans.
We know that mining is a very water intensive industry; how does OCP recover urban wastewater to make its operations more sustainable?
The recovery and reuse of urban wastewater after treatment is part of our sustainable water management strategy. Indeed, the use of water occurs at each stage of the value chain: mining activities, transport and transformation. OCP is now meeting the challenge of industrial growth that is both prosperous and sustainable.
As part of the implementation of our water strategy, we have for instance abandoned the use of groundwater, which is considered a strategic resource for the kingdom. In fact, we plan to have all of OCP’s industrial water needs met from unconventional water (treated wastewater and desalinated water) by 2030.
The increase in our industrial capacity is naturally accompanied by an increase in water requirements. To respond to this, we prioritise the reuse of purified domestic wastewater. We thus contribute to the protection of the environment and the preservation of natural freshwater resources.
The OCP Group has set up an ambitious programme aimed at building several urban wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) and reusing the water, mainly for industrial purposes. The Merah Lahrach washing plant is the first in the world to use purified wastewater from the WWTP in the city of Khouribga for phosphate washing. This station, with a capacity of 5m cubic metres per year, has treated some 45m cubic metres since it was commissioned in 2010.
Two other WWTPs followed it in the Benguerir and Youssoufia mining sites, thus bringing the industrial reuse of water purified by OCP to around 10m cubic metres per year. Part of the water leaving the Benguerir WWTP is also used for watering the green spaces of the Mohammed VI Green City. State-of-the-art wastewater treatment is providing very good results.
This pioneering experience is proving to be an excellent ecological response to the industrial needs of the Group. It encourages the use of wastewater for other industrial projects.
Several feasibility studies are underway with our partners to strengthen the capacity for industrial reuse of treated wastewater, from existing or new WWTPs.
OCP reuses 80% of the wastewater from phosphate enrichment. How does the optimisation of water use work across the value chain?
By launching its industrial development strategy, the OCP Group has placed the preservation of natural resources at the top of its priorities. We ensure the optimisation of water resources used in all phosphate production and processing.
As you mention, more than 80% of the water used in the enrichment stage by washing-flotation in the Group’s mining sites is recycled. This is a process that was developed by the OCP teams in which the water from the washing sludge is recycled and mainly recovered and then reinjected into the process.
Another example is that the specific water consumption in new industrial units has been reduced by 25% thanks to the adoption of new advanced technologies.
Also, the Slurry Pipeline connecting Khouribga to Jorf Lasfar and conveying the washed phosphate in the form of pulp saves nearly 3m cubic metres of water per year. This hydraulic mode of transport keeps the moisture in the rock, while all of the water used for transport is reused in phosphate upgrading facilities.
Desalination is a major technological advance, but it consumes a lot of energy. How can we make the most of these technological advances while saving energy?
OCP invests in seawater desalination to cover all of the additional needs required by its industrial development, without any recourse to additional conventional water.
The industrial platform of Jorf Lasfar has been supplied since 2016 by the largest desalination station in Morocco, with an annual capacity of 25m cubic metres. It uses the reverse osmosis process, a fresh water production process that we have used since the desalination station in Laâyoune went into action in 2006. The energy needs of this station are met from the excess of clean energy co-generated by the industrial facilities of the OCP platform.
The Jorf Lasfar station extension project, scheduled to come into service in 2022, will achieve a total capacity of 40m cubic metres per year. Other desalination plants are being studied at the Jorf Lasfar, Safi and Laâyoune sites.
The technology adopted in our desalination plants is “best-in-class” technology, which allows lower electrical energy consumption per cubic metre, in particular thanks to an energy recovery system.
Also at the WWTP level, the energy recovery of biogas from the wastewater treatment process can cover up to 30% of the electrical needs of these stations.
Another lever in the efficient management of energy concerns the mode of transport. Indeed, the Slurry Pipeline allows great energy optimisation. This hydraulic mode of transport is particularly ecological. The progress of the pulp is favoured by natural gravity, which eliminates the electrical energy consumed for transport by train and for drying the phosphate. The completion of this Slurry Pipeline will thus allow the elimination of 930,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.
The objective of the OCP water programme is to use 100% sustainable water by 2030. What are the key projects that OCP will focus on in the future to achieve this objective?
We will reduce specific water consumption by 15% from 2024. We are continuing our optimisation efforts across the entire value chain. Thus, we have launched innovative projects both for the recovery of as much water as possible from washing sludge and the treatment of mining tracks, as well as for the continuous search for less water-consuming processes in industrial processing.
We also plan to use additional unconventional water resources by building new WWTPs and new desalination units.
R&D and innovation in the water sector are also required. We have launched numerous projects in collaboration with various partners, including Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, to develop solutions for optimising water in the industrial process. We are looking for the most suitable and competitive water treatment technologies, such as the use of renewable energies in desalination plants.