Chlor-Alkali Holdings: A safety first approach to water

Across the country, the need for safe, clean water remains a paramount consideration. Chlorine treatment of course is an important aspect of water safety.

ChlorHowever, the transportation of potentially harmful chemicals is an everyday challenge for one of South Africa’s premier providers of chlorine, as NCP Chlorchem supplies municipal water-purification plants and the public swimming pool maintenance markets.

In the spring of 2013, the business officially confirmed that is was continuing its 8-year long relationship with logistics and supply chain specialists Cargo Carriers, via a further extension of the contract to transport chlorine from NCP Chlorchem’s Chloorkop plant in Kempton Park to its warehouse in Atlantis in the Western Cape.

Transporting chlorine is anything but a straight forward task and NCP Chlorchem cited Cargo Carriers’ record on safety as a major factor. Each transportation vehicles is fitted with cranes to facilitate safe loading and offloading of chlorine drums from vehicle to storage area ­and all vehicles are fitted with safety kits to contain the risk in the unlikely event of an en-route spill. The company also maintains relationships with clean-up services nationwide, as further insurance against any emergency. Drivers have to meet strict requirements with regard to product knowledge, safety procedures and crane operation, with NCP Chlorchem facilitating training and skills update on a regular basis.

Off the cuff, I’d say the biggest factor in renewing the contract with Cargo Carriers is their safety record,” says Gerhard Painter, Supply Chain Manager at NCP. “They have a reputation as one of the top five hauliers of dangerous goods in South Africa; and are known for their ability to negotiate and mitigate the risks of potentially hazardous chemicals. And that is backed up by their track record – in 8 years, there has not been a single hazardous en route incident in the transport of our cargo.”

Of course transportation is just one of the potential hazards of the chloralkali process – which is an industrial process for the electrolysis of sodium chloride solution (brine). Depending on the method, several products besides hydrogen can be produced. If the products are separated, chlorine and sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) are the products; by mixing, sodium hypochlorite or sodium chlorate are produced, depending on the temperature. Higher temperatures are needed for the production of sodium chlorate instead of sodium hypochlorite.

NCP Chlorchem is one part of Chlor-Alkali Holdings, which operates 3 trading divisions Walvis Bay Salt Refiners and Botswana Ash, as well as the former business.

The business very much started out in the chlor-alkali business, which was first established on the Chloorkop site by the South African government in 1942.

Chlor-Alkali Holdings in name came to fruition in 2002 and today operates 2 chlor-alkali plants at Kempton Park.

The peril of working with chemicals is a constant pressure and in December 2008, one of the sites was shut down following an explosion. In 2010, the newer of the 2 plants resumed production at a capacity of 20,000 tonnes/year of caustic soda and 19,000 tonnes/year of chlorine, it was reported. The plant produces caustic soda through the membrane-cell method.

At that particular time, caustic soda in southern Africa was in short supply as a result of shortages in Asia and Europe. Southern Africa is a net importer of caustic soda. At the same time, domestic demand was strong, which added further strain to resources.

The high consumption was attributed to end-users in the major downstream pulp and paper, and soap and detergents markets stockpiling material ahead of planned closures across the Christmas and New Year period in 2010.

For NCP Chlorchem, recent challenges are just part of a long history dating back to the 1960s, when the company was privatised. By 1967 the then Klipfontein Organic Products became a founding member of the Sentrachem Group. Sentrachem acquired 50 per cent of the Walvis Bay salt operation in 1965 and bought out the rest of the shares in 1988.

In 1997 Sentrachem itself was the subject of an acquisition by the Dow Chemical Company, which led to the disposal of some of the Sentrachem businesses.  The chlor-alkali and salt businesses were acquired from Dow in 2002 by a consortium comprising Investec Private Equity, 2 private investors and management. The portfolio of businesses was further expanded with the addition of 50 per cent of the Botswana based soda ash business.

Today, the Group is made up of 4 divisions, including the chlor-alkali business with its production facility located at Chloorkop in South Africa, the solar evaporation sea-water salt production facility located at Walvis Bay in Namibia, the soda-ash and salt production facility located at Sua Pan in Botswana and the head office located at Centurion, South Africa.

In May 2010, Botswana Ash (Botash) announced that it was looking forward to its new partnership with Chlor Alkali Holdings (CAH) following the approval of the merger by South Africa’s Competition Tribunal recently.

We, as staff of Botswana Ash, look forward to an exciting future with the Government of Botswana as our existing shareholders and Chlor Alkali Holdings as (our) new partner,” says the company’s Managing Director Derek Cochrane.

At the time, Cochrane confirmed that CAH was identified as the preferred bidder. “With the existing private shareholders of Botswana Ash expressing their desire to sell their shareholding, Chlor-Alkali Holdings was identified as the preferred bidder,” he said.

CAH were chosen largely due to its view of the future of Botash as well as synergies between the companies’ products, he added.

The Chlor-Alkali business trades under the NCP Chlorchem [NCP] name and is a manufacturer and distributor of chlor alkali products, serving a number of major markets, including: local plastics, pulp and paper and mining sectors and the potable and effluent water treatment industries. Additionally the business sells its chemicals and services to a diverse range of overseas markets.

The company’s Chloorkop site is the second largest of its kind in South Africa and produces a range of products including Liquid Chlorine (bulk and packed in cylinders), Hydrochloric Acid, Caustic Soda Lye, Caustic Soda Flakes, Sodium Hypochlorite, Ferric/Ferrous Chloride, Aluminium chloride, Aluminium chloro-hydrate (PAC) and Chlorinated Paraffins.

Of course we are talking about a highly regulated industry and NCP Chlorchem’s website outlines a number of important accreditations:

Quality Performance is a commitment, by each employee, to excellence and the requirements of the Quality Management System. It is achieved by a framework of quality teams, processes of review, and continuous improvement, that is measured through detailed quality objectives.

As a chemical producer we are dedicated to being the market leader in providing quality products and services, which meet or exceed the expectations of our customers.”

These extend to ISO 9001:2008 in respect of the design and development, manufacture, and supply of a number of chemicals and properties, while the Chloorkop site is accredited and complies to product certificate NSF/ANSI 60 – Drinking Water treatment – Health Effects.

Safety remains a key business challenge for Chlor-Alkali Holdings and is expertly handled not only to ensure safe operations, but also the provision of safe water across the country.