voestalpine VAE GmbH, the global market & technology leader in turnout systems for railways, metros, and tramways, operates Europe's largest turnout production facility at the site in Zeltweg, Styria–and has operated with a zero carbon footprint for years. This is the result of a vision of a highly energy efficient plant, as well as excellent cooperation with local businesses, authorities, and residents.
“The pleasing result of the measures we implemented is principally based on three pillars,” explains Manfred Torschitz, HSEE Advisor in the Metal Engineering Division and at the voestalpine VAE Group. For 19 years he has been responsible for Health, Safety, Environment & Energy (HSEE) in Zeltweg where he was instrumental in the project to make the site CO2-neutral. “The first step was naturally to increase the efficiency of the existing facilities, buildings and heating systems, and to consider HSEE aspects for any new building early on in the planning stages.” In fact the initial ideas for an energy efficient plant go back to 2001, when the company became one of the first participants in the climate alliance for Styrian businesses.
"Back then there was great surprise and much doubt when we raised the idea of a CO2-neutral steel processing plant. But the seeds were sown, and we worked on this goal for many years."
Positive carbon footprint
Raising a plant’s efficiency is one thing, but meeting the remaining demand for highly energy-intensive production with energy sourced from renewables turned out to be rather more challenging. When it came to the other two pillars, coincidence also played a role, Torschitz explains: “Energy efficiency is something we can do ourselves. But when it comes to energy supply, that wouldn’t have been possible without collaboration. Back in 2010, rather than using natural gas we decided to source 75% of our energy for heating from a newly constructed biomass power plant which had been built in Zeltweg. A little later the biomass power plant joined forces with a paper and cellulose plant in the region to utilize its waste heat. The third pillar is based on a small hydropower plant close to the site from which the company can source 80% to 90% of the electricity it requires: “At night and on the weekends we simultaneously have a surplus which we feed into the public grid. This allows us to calculate our fossil fuel savings which then count against our CO2 footprint.”
"Our remaining CO2 emissions are more than compensated by the green electricity we feed into the grid. And as a result, for years we have achieved a positive carbon footprint."