media release

Salt of the Earth

It’s a year now since Akzo Nobel’s massive solar salt plant in Onslow, Australia, started production.

Celebrating the first anniversary seemed a long way off back in 1999—when a devastating cyclone wreaked havoc the day before the originally planned opening—but 12 months after harvesting finally got underway the facility is running smoothly.

“The first year has been satisfying as well as challenging,” explained Onslow’s soon-to-retire general manager of operations, Ron van Velzen. “The operation has grown steadily and we have passed some very significant milestones along the way—the berthing of the first ship immediately springs to mind.”

The USD 60 million plant, situated in Western Australia, was built to serve the soaring demand for high quality solar salt for chlorine alkaline manufacture in Asia Pacific and the first year of production exceeded expectations.

“The target for 2001 was to ship 250,000 tons of salt, but the eventual figure was well above that,” said Onslow’s Perth-based Managing Director, Koen van Eig, who added that the 2002 production target was around 1.3 million tons.

Solar salt manufacture requires favorable conditions (preferably very hot and no rain) and thankfully there’s been no sign of any more freak storms during the last 12 months.

“We have had good weather for salt growth in the last year, with minimal rain and no cyclones and we hope that trend will continue,” added Van Velzen, who often experiences temperatures in the high 30s and 40s (degrees Celsius).

One major addition planned for the near future is the construction of a conveyor from the crystallizers to the wash plant, a distance of around 4 miles (6.5 kilometers). That might sound a long way, but the facility itself covers 9,000 hectares and each of the 12 crystallizers is 67 hectares.

A total of 50 people are employed at Onslow and three work in Perth, where they handle all the sales and shipping logistics. However, there are plans to employ more people at the site as production increases.

As for Van Velzen, now that the smooth start-up has been achieved, his thoughts are turning to retirement on September 1 and life away from Onslow, a town of just 600 inhabitants where the nearest proper shops are a mere three-hour drive away.

“I am glad to have been a part of Onslow’s early success and it is with some regrets that I will leave as I head off into retirement,” he said.

Van Velzen will retain some contact with the company, however, as Van Eig pointed out: “Luckily Ron will stay involved because he has accepted an offer to stay on as an independent board member of Onslow Salt Pty Ltd.”

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