Innovation as a growth factor

From a waste disposal company for residues from power plant operation to a highly specialized company and supplier of innovative products for construction, environmental protection and industry: The history of STEAG Power Minerals shows just how pronounced the innovation potential within the STEAG Group is.

When the predecessor of today’s STEAG Power Minerals (SPM), STEAG Entsorgungs GmbH, was founded in 1979, its business purpose was simple: The subsidiary based in Dinslaken was to develop recycling technologies for power plant by-products and operate corresponding processing plants for that purpose. The background is that the operation of coal-fired power plants produces by-products such as fly ash, bottom ash and – through flue gas cleaning using the lime scrubbing process – gypsum.

“Even then, the sustainable use of resources was an issue at STEAG,” says Andreas Hugot, who today manages the business of SPM together with Stephan Altendeitering. “In Germany, flue gas desulphurization had been mandatory for new coal-fired power plants since 1974; from 1983, older plants also had to be retrofitted. However, STEAG had already started initial trials with the lime scrubbing process at the Lünen power plant at the beginning of the 1970s and gained the requisite experience.” Flue gas desulphurization (FGD) produces FGD gypsum, which does not differ from natural gypsum in terms of its chemical composition and can therefore be used in the production of construction materials.

Customers praise high level of expertise and great willingness to help

Customer Order Shop
SPM’s innovative drive does not stop at its own business operations: As a result of a process excellence campaign, the operational business processes within the company were transformed to achieve greater efficiency. Last year saw the implementation of the internet-based Customer Order Shop, a new sales channel that offers SPM customers 24/7 service and additional added value in order processing. These and other innovations are currently being presented to all SPM subsidiaries as part of the “Roadmap to best practice” project – with the aim of also achieving these efficiency benefits there.

Only two years later, the compulsory task had already become a business idea: STEAG Entsorgungs GmbH not only disposed of waste from STEAG power plants, but also offered this service to competitors. What’s more, the STEAG subsidiary was marketing the residual materials for the first time by actively addressing potential customers, especially in the construction industry. “During that period we developed a network that we have expanded over the years and which today is a decisive factor for STEAG Power Minerals’ good competitive position,” explains Andreas Hugot, who joined the company in 1992 and helped to drive the expansion. The SPM predecessor company not only further developed the technical facilities, but even built its own lime-sand brick works and designed a re-drying plant for the treatment of fly ash, which is unique in Europe.

In 2001 Andreas Hugot, then just 36 years old, became a director of the company, now called STEAG Power Minerals. One year later, SPM attracted attention with the takeover of ASIKOS Strahlmittel GmbH, the market leader for abrasives – and continued to grow at a remarkable pace. “We have always offered high-quality products, which is why we have not only been able to keep our customers, but have also gained new ones,” says Andreas Hugot. “But what was and still is also essential is for a motivated team to be working here, offering disposal and recycling services from a single source and being very close to the customer. Even when the raw materials are scarce, we keep on trying until we have found a solution for our customers.”

Such great commitment produces results: In a customer satisfaction survey commissioned in 2016, 92 percent of customers were “satisfied to very satisfied” with the service provided by SPM employees. Particular praise was given to their high level of expertise and their great willingness to help.

Photoment® - Contribution to the reduction of NOx pollution in city centers

Photoment®
This concrete additive consists of fly ash and titanium dioxide, and is added to construction materials. With exposure to light, a photocatalytic reaction is triggered on a Photoment® surface which converts toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the air into non-toxic nitrates. The effectiveness of the SPM invention not only convinced the jury of Europe’s largest environmental and business prize, which awarded the STEAG subsidiary a GreenTec Award in 2016, but also the responsible people in local government who are faced with the choice of either imposing driving bans on diesel vehicles or mitigating the problem through the use of Photoment® in view of increasing NOx pollution in city centers.

Another driver of STEAG Power Minerals’ growth is its innovative strength. This is reflected in the company’s laboratories at the headquarters of SPM subsidiary MINERALplus in Gladbeck, among other places. There, the company operates laboratories for construction materials, fuels and waste analysis. These serve not only to regularly check the quality of our own products, but also offer their know-how to customers and develop new products. The idea for the concrete additive Photoment®, which is now successfully marketed worldwide, was also developed there (see separate information). “The development and sales of Photoment® show what we at STEAG Power Minerals are capable of,” says Dennis Pannen, who is responsible for the distribution of the GreenTec Award winning SPM product. “This is pure innovation that can be used to the benefit of our customers. That is the core of our corporate philosophy.” Now that the cities of Bottrop and Dortmund in the Ruhr area and Laupheim and Stuttgart in Baden-Württemberg have already laid paving stones with Photoment®, a collaboration with the South Korean paving stone manufacturer Decopave Ltd. has also been agreed.

STEAG Power Minerals is now internationally oriented: The joint venture entered into with Hawar Power Minerals in 2013 has become a partnership – in 2016 the Qatar-based company acquired a 30 percent stake in SPM. In addition to its activities in Qatar, the former waste management company now has holdings in companies in Great Britain, the Benelux countries and Poland, as well as branches in eastern and southern Germany. “SPM and its affiliated companies are an innovative network in which an intensive exchange of information and ideas takes place,” SPM director Stephan Altendeitering explains. “Our subsidiaries operate independently. We initiate, promote and manage knowledge transfer.” Altendeitering and his fellow director Hugot rely on a young team. “We have had good experience with putting young employees in management positions,” says Andreas Hugot. “This is a not inconsiderable part of our dynamism”.

Innovative thinking: Fertilizer from biomass fly ash

Biolite Technologies®
In response to the changed market environment In the United Kingdom, Power Minerals Ltd., based there, realigned itself and founded the Biolite Technologies division. As early as 2015, the company secured patents and licenses for the so-called “Global Enrichment” process, with which fly ash from biomass can be used in fertilizers. Following an intensive development and test phase, larger quantities of the products “Vitality+” and “Maxolite” are to be produced shortly. One difference to the recycling of fly ash from hard coal is that the customers in this case do not come from the construction industry, but from agriculture and horticulture.

Dynamism and flexibility – these factors will become even more important for STEAG Power Minerals in the future. Owing to the changes in the energy industry, especially in Germany, SPM employees have to try harder and harder to meet the wishes of their customers. “The shutdown of further hard coal fired power plants will naturally result in fewer power plant by-products in the future,” explains Wolfgang Beer, Head of SPM Sales. “In the area of blasting abrasives, for example, we are seeing a considerable decline in the volume of slag tap granulate. That is why we are constantly concerned with questions such as: What products are available? And where do we get them? We benefit in that connection from our network which has been built up over decades.” And sometimes SPM employees also have to think in completely new directions: In the UK, for example, many coal-fired power plants have been converted to biomass. The question therefore arose as to what could be done with the residues. “Our subsidiary Power Minerals Ltd. is currently developing a fertilizer from biomass fly ash,” says Wolfgang Beer – one more example of the innovative power that makes STEAG Power Minerals so successful.