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Expedition crosses South Pacific to assess ocean nutrient supply



News, Processing Technologies, Water & Waste Water

Iron-rich fluids emanating from hydrothermal vents on the seafloor can boost life in the otherwise nutrient-poor surface waters of the open ocean. An expedition with the German research vessel Sonne is currently traversing the South Pacific and collecting data on the supply of nutrients and trace elements as well as the resulting plankton productivity. With its measurements, the multinational team led by the Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in cooperation with Jacobs University Bremen also wants to learn more about the possibilities and limits of carbon dioxide uptake in the ocean.

The South Pacific is one of the most remote and least explored ocean regions on our planet. It is also the largest ocean region with extremely low productivity: its crystal clear, blue waters indicate a very low abundance of phytoplankton. These microscopic plants live on the ocean surface and depend on nutrients such as nitrates and trace elements like iron and cobalt to grow. Therefore, their low abundance in the South Pacific is thought to be due to a scarce supply of these elements. Low productivity also limits the uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in this part of the ocean. Hydrothermal vents on the seafloor, however, provide nutrients to the deep water – and the question is whether these nutrients also reach the surface of this ocean desert. Such vents have now been located and sampled.

For expedition SO289, the German research vessel is currently traversing the South Pacific at 32.5°S from Valparaiso (Chile) to Noumea (New Caledonia), a distance of 6500 nautical miles. The seven-week cruise is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and takes place within the framework of the international GEOTRACES program. Led by the -Center for Ocean Research Kiel and in cooperation with Jacobs University, scientists from the Universities of Kiel, Marseille, Lausanne, Xiamen, Minnesota, South Florida and Vienna, the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), the Royal Netherlands Institute for Ocean Research (NIOZ), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of Chile are also involved. The collaboration of national and international research groups and the many different nationalities on board create an inspiring multicultural environment.

Researchers on board are studying the delivery of trace elements and nutrients to the surface ocean and their effects on sea surface productivity, nitrogen fixation by phytoplankton, and ocean carbon uptake. In addition, the sources, sinks, and distributions of trace elements and their isotopes (TEIs) in the water column along this zonal section in the South Pacific are determined in detail. Sources of trace elements include Chilean and Australian dust, rivers such as the Maipo in Chile, sediments on the continental shelf, and hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean.

The South Pacific hosts large underwater volcanoes and hydrothermal vents along the East Pacific Ridge in the middle of the ocean between diverging tectonic plates from which magma rises from the Earth’s mantle. Hot fluids flow from the vents into the deep sea at a water depth of about 2500 meters. They contain high concentrations of iron and other elements needed by phytoplankton for growth. The iron plumes are thought to be transported southward at depth and reach surface waters in the Southern Ocean, the largest region of the world ocean where phytoplankton growth is limited by iron. Researchers are assessing hydrothermal iron inputs and using tracers and modeling approaches to determine their impact on Southern Ocean productivity.

In recent days, plumes of hydrothermal vents have been located and sampled on the East Pacific Rise, north of the Juan Fernandez microplate.

“The region is known for its hydrothermal vents, and we were very excited to find them. This suggests that there are indeed oases in this marine desert – but we need to analyze our samples in more detail to better understand the effects of these nutrient surges.”

– Professor Dr. Eric Achterberg

Each day, expedition members also collect detailed water and particle samples from the surface to the seafloor. This will involve the use of specialized equipment and GEOTRACES-approved sampling and analysis methods to sample trace metals in a way that avoids contamination from the instruments and the ship. In addition, the uptake of atmospheric CO2 by the ocean will be measured, the abundance of microplastics in the surface ocean will be assessed, and growth experiments will be conducted on phytoplankton with a range of added metals and nutrients to determine which metals and nutrients are present in the ocean in insufficient amounts for optimal phytoplankton growth. “We anticipate that our results will be of global importance in understanding the chemical environment in which ecosystems operate and how ocean productivity and the role of the oceans in atmospheric carbon uptake will change in a future warmer ocean,” Professor Achterberg concluded.


Recycling technology to increase value of recycled aseptic cartons in Brazil



SIG today announces a BRL 10 million investment in innovative recycling technology that will enable polymers and aluminium from used aseptic carton packs to be recovered and sold separately for the first time on an industrial scale in Brazil. By expanding the range of applications for recycled materials from used aseptic cartons, SIG expects to increase their value by more than 50 percent.

“We are excited to bring to Brazil a new technology that will enable separation of aluminium and polyethylene layers from carton packs, thereby expanding the market for these materials and generating more value from the separated waste,” says Ricardo Rodriguez, President and General Manager for SIG Americas. “This project is the latest in a series of innovative collaborations led by SIG to boost collection and recycling rates for used aseptic cartons and grow the recycling chain in a sustainable way.”


Innovative recycling technology

The renewable paper board that makes up around 75 percent of aseptic carton packs on average can be separated for recycling in paper mills through Brazil’s existing recycling infrastructure. The polyethylene and aluminium mix (polyaluminium or PolyAl) left over from this process can be recycled into a robust material for purposes such as roofing, pallets and furniture.

SIG’s recycling plant will use innovative technology that makes it possible to separate the polyethylene from the aluminium in PolyAl to create a wider market and demand for these recycled materials. Developed over five years with project partner ECS Consulting, the new technology has already undergone a pilot project that proved the effectiveness of the chemical recycling process.

The new recycling plant is currently in construction in the state of Paraná. It is expected to begin operating in 2024 with an initial production capacity of 200 tonnes per month. Together with industry partners, SIG has also invested in a plant in Germany to separate polymers and aluminium from PolyAl that went into production in 2021.


Ethical collection programmes

Investing in new technology to create a wider market for recycled materials is an important step in increasing recycling rates for used aseptic cartons. SIG has already led the way with innovative programmes to support two other important steps: collection of used packaging from consumers and separation of that packaging to go into the right recycling streams.

SIG’s so+ma vantagens programme, run in partnership with NGO so+ma since 2018, enables people in underprivileged communities to collect loyalty points for bringing in waste for recycling. The points can then be exchanged for rewards, such as essential food products and skills training. SIG is now expanding this model to promote recycling and bring additional societal benefits to further municipalities in Brazil and beyond.

SIG also promotes public policies for selective waste collection in Brazil, and supports effective infrastructure and decent working conditions for waste collectors’ cooperatives as a seed investor in the Recicleiros Cidades programme. Set up with NGO Recicleiros in 2018, the programme is now operational in 13 municipalities and aims to reach 60 by 2027.

The focus on recycling in Brazil is part of SIG’s global Way Beyond Good commitment to enhance the positive environmental and social impact of its packs throughout their lifecycle.

“At SIG, we are committed to sourcing the materials that go into our packs sustainably. We are already the first aseptic carton producer to source 100 percent FSCTM-certified board and use ASI-certified aluminium,” says Isabela De Marchi, Sustainability Manager for SIG South America. “We are also determined to foster an ethical recycling chain that promotes collection and recycling of our packs after use in a way that supports communities, workers and the environment. The new recycling plant in Paraná takes us a step further on this journey by maximising the retained economic and environmental value of the materials recovered from aseptic cartons.”


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Use of renewable energy



The construction of a vast solar installation at SIG’s production site in Linnich, Germany, will see SIG further extend its lead in the beverage carton industry in the use of renewable energy. The 10.25MWp system, made up of 22,300 photovoltaic solar panels, will be the largest photovoltaic system at an SIG plant to date.

“The thousands of solar panels we are installing in Linnich will double our on-site renewable energy capacity in Germany,” said Arnold Schuhwerk, Head of Category Polymers & Energy Global at SIG. “This latest investment shows that SIG is not only committed to continue making its beverage cartons with 100 percent renewable energy, but to continually improve the quality of that renewable energy through physical power purchase agreements.”


Maximising on-site capacity

SIG is already the first and only aseptic carton manufacturer to produce all its packs with 100 percent renewable energy globally since 2018.

The company recently secured physical power purchase agreements that will provide enough renewable energy capacity to power 100 percent of its carton packaging production in Germany from January 2023 – and the Linnich installation will enable more of this to come from its own sites.

Construction has begun on a gigantic ground-standing system of 20,600 panels that will occupy an 80,000 squarer meters area in front of the Linnich plant – that’s the equivalent of 11 soccer fields side by side. A further 1,700 panels will cover the plant’s rooftop to maximise potential to solar power on the site.

As the owner and operator of the Linnich photovoltaic system, Leipziger Stadtwerke will pass on the solar power generated directly to SIG through a long-term power purchase agreement. The power will go straight into the production of SIG carton packs at the site.

“Leipziger Stadtwerke is driving forward the expansion of renewable energies, including working with partners like SIG. The solar installation at the SIG plant in Linnich is another milestone towards the decarbonising of energy systems in Germany,” says Maik Piehler, Managing Director of Leipziger Stadtwerke. “We are pleased to be able to make an important contribution to this. The project is one of the largest photovoltaic self-supply systems with direct connection in Germany that is operated without using the public grid and without any subsidies on industrial land.”


Going Way Beyond Good for climate

SIG already doubled its on-site solar capacity in 2021 to 11.3MWp and plans to triple this again within the next year. The Linnich system will play a big part in this expansion, together with installations in development at other SIG plants in Germany, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.


The company’s focus on renewable energy is part of SIG’s Way Beyond Good Climate+ ambition that is driving down value chain carbon emissions for its business and its customers.

Use of renewable energy for carton packaging production has already avoided over half a million tonnes of CO2-equivalent and these savings will continue to grow. The new Linnich installation alone will generate enough renewable electricity to reduce more than 3,150 tonnes of carbon emissions a year.


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Commitment to sustainability



EcoVadis, the world’s largest provider of corporate sustainability ratings, has presented Bilfinger SE with a Gold Award for sustainable, ethical and responsible business practices. The Group is thus among the top 5 percent of companies from the more than 100,000 throughout the world that EcoVadis analyzed.

“We are truly proud to receive this award. The results clearly show that the sustainability principle is firmly established in our Group structure and that it is actively embraced by our employees. At the same time, we see the award as an incentive for our future performance”, says Bilfinger Group CEO Thomas Schulz. “The impartial recognition from EcoVadis also serves as confirmation for our process industry customers that with Bilfinger they have a responsible and trustworthy partner at their side ready to help them successfully implement their own sustainability goals.”

The EcoVadis evaluation is based on a comprehensive catalog of questions in which the results of the criteria surveyed are grouped into the four topic areas including environment, labor & human rights, ethics and sustainable procurement. In the most recent survey, Bilfinger improved in both the environment category (from 70 to 80 points), in the labor & human rights category (from 60 to 70 points) and in the sustainable procurement category (from 40 to 50 points). In the ethics category, the same figure as in the previous year (60 points) was achieved. Overall, Bilfinger achieved a score of 68 from a possible 100 points in the annual survey conducted by EcoVadis. The industrial services provider thus surpassed its results from the previous year’s survey by eight points.

Bilfinger has been reporting on its sustainability activities on an annual basis since 2011 and has published an externally-audited non-financial report every year since 2018. In accordance with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and as part of its current Annual Report, the Group has also formulated specific targets for its own carbon footprint in the form of a so-called “Sustainability Commitment”. This commitment calls for CO2 equivalents under Scope 1 and 2 to be successively reduced from around 60,000 metric tons in 2021 to ‘net zero’ by the end of 2030 at the latest.

Bilfinger is also increasingly providing its customers with valuable support to help them achieve their own sustainability goals. The Group’s customers face the challenge of securing their energy supply for the future and significantly reducing their carbon footprint. As a key component of the company’s growth strategy, Bilfinger targets an increase in revenues from energy transition and carbon reduction projects from approximately €500 million in 2021 to around €1 billion by 2024.


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