Production at cement giant PPC’s De Hoek plant near Piketberg has quite literally been retreaded. The De Hoek plant – which started production in 1923 – might be one of the oldest cement plants in South Africa, but it’s certainly not shy of incorporating new techniques in its operations. CEO Daryll Castle recently reported tangible progress with PPC’s alternative thermal energy strategy – which has been introduced via tyre burning at De Hoek.

De Hoek kiln 6 is expected to have a co-processing capacity of about 8,000 tons of recycled tyres per year. This would result in thermal heat replacement of about 15%. The manual tyre feed system was recently completed at a cost of under R10m. This saving should be seen in the context of the draft carbon tax bill (released for comment in November 2015) – most notably the Carbon Tax Act 2017, which will come into operation on January 1 next year.

Previously PPC estimated that the impact of carbon taxes on its business would be around R150m – but now the value is expected to be just below R120m. PPC argued that tyres have a calorific value that make it an ideal alternative energy source for a cement kiln as well as preserving non-renewable natural resources.

By co-processing tyres, the cement kiln achieves ‘total destruction’ and the ash is incorporated in the product with no by-product. Kiln 6 is also expected to have a co-processing capacity that results in a 10% to 15% thermal substitution rate.

The manual tyre feed system has been operational since mid-August last year. The initial one tyre per minute feed is equivalent to 5% coal replacement – but is a rather strenuous task that requires 26 tyre feeders, four Bell truck operators to feed the system around the clock.

A recent presentation on De Hoek showed that 6,000 tons of tyre stock would be sourced from the Western Cape – where PPC has a large exposure to the cement market.

Interestingly, PPC’s presentation on De Hoek suggests there have been improvements in Western Cape cement demand since the end of September last year – noting that over R3bn worth of projects had been awarded in the province since October.

PPC said projects were related to road work as well as residential building activities.

In the meantime De Hoek has – as part of its postponement compliance timeframes agreement with the government – initiated the upgrade of a finishing mill (to ensure it meets 2020 compliance timeframes by January 2016.)

Essentially De Hoek remains a key production asset for PPC, able to produce over 1,1 million tons of cement per annum and pack more than 1,4 million bags of cement a month.

Most importantly, De Hoek is able to sell around 26,000 tons of cement per week!

Not surprisingly has continued to spend on upkeep at this key facility. After spending R55m on a filter replacement at De Hoek’s Kiln 6 in 2015, another R10m was spent on the tyre feed in 2015. This year PPC will invest another R19m of a gearbox replacement, R9m on a system filter replacement, R4m on a separator filter replacement and R3m on replacing dust collectors at transfer points.