Dr Johnson’s technical audit of a DC plasma waste treatment plant that’s been running for 20 years

Entry by Dr Tim Johnson, Technical Director at Tetronics

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of my job is meeting satisfied customers.  Making our customers happy is the reason for all the effort and time spent on delivering equipment, and yet it is surprisingly easy to lose sight of this central goal during the frenetic activity that is required to make it a reality.  So it was with anticipation that I visited one of Tetronics’ reference plants with some colleagues recently as part of a technical audit of a DC plasma waste treatment plant in Italy.

Situated in the North East of Rome in a natural bowl, surrounded by spectacular mountains that seem to cap the horizon whichever way you look.  The plasma plant itself is tucked into a hillside on the steel works and since start up in 1992 it has processed stainless steel dust to recovery nickel, chromium and iron for recycling to the steel plant.

Our brief visit proved to be one of the most satisfying things I have done in my professional capacity for many years.  The plant operators provided us with remarkably extensive chemical, operational and financial data prior to our visit and continued to be every bit as open with us whilst we were on site.  We were granted almost unlimited access to equipment and staff, who were candid and open when answering our questions, and we never detected any sense of political tension between the local operating company, the plant owners and the steel plant.  As a result of this, we were quickly able to assess the changing performance of the plant over the years since start up and the present state of the equipment. 

The visit left us with a profound sense of admiration for the flexibility and robustness of the DC plasma arc technology and the professionalism of the operating team, many of whom had been with the plant since start up.  The data enabled us to chart the changing feed recipes and throughputs, which have altered over the years as the requirements of the steel plant have changed.  We were  also able to see how the approach to maintenance has changed as the plant has become older and how a high throughput and availability have been maintained in spite of many parts of the plant being nearly 20 years old.  Most importantly, we were able to make clear recommendations to the operators for improvements to their operating practices and equipment, safe in the knowledge that it was based on the best quality information possible. Overall, the impression was one of a highly optimised and highly successful plant with a great future that is a credit to its staff and management.  

Sustained high prices for nickel and chromium over many years have ensured that the fundamental economics for such plants have remained sound and with rising commodity prices, there seems little chance of this changing.  Indeed, we have noticed an upsurge of interest in the plasma treatment of steel plant wastes recently which would seem to reflect this.  In this light, we can say our experience at visiting this plant gives us great confidence that Tetronics DC plasma arc technology will continue to provide our potential partners, both new and old, with waste recovery solutions for many years to come.

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