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Elkem around the world: Ningxia, China

Meet Dean Peng, Elkem's Carbon Solutions Asia Business Director, and the manager of Elkem’s carbon plant in Ningxia, China.

Elkem around the world 18.12.2023
Dean Peng

Dean Peng joined Elkem 7 years ago with a background in applied chemistry, an MBA, and 16 years of experience from General Electric. His first role was as a general manager for a plant in the Silicon Products division.

It is evident that Dean enjoys his work and the busy schedule that comes with it, but outside of his role as a manager, he is an avid runner. During COVID, Dean picked up running and set a personal target of completing 800 km every year. Dean travels a lot for work but believes in few excuses when it comes to running. As he puts it, “the best part about running is that you don’t need anything or anyone to do it”. While running may be an activity that is easy to adopt, Dean acknowledges that the challenging aspect of it is staying consistent over time.

Consistency is also an important part of the plant’s operations. The plant was established 40 years ago, and it has been managed by Elkem for the past 23 years. By consistently delivering high quality products to customers across Asia, including China, Oceania, and North America the plant has solidified its reputation in the industry as a trusted provider. The Ningxia plant currently produces Søderberg electrode paste, cathode ramming paste, as well as furnace lining and tapping materials.

Focus on HSE

“The challenging part about operating a mature plant, is to ensure the plant is up to date and complies with all HSE requirements” Dean explains. In this work, Dean emphasizes the importance of keeping a good dialogue with local authorities. “It is important to show that we don’t just comply with local requirements but are committed to raising the bar and establish world-class HSE standards”, Dean highlights. He describes that they regularly invite the authorities to the plant to see the improvements for themselves. When asked about the HSE initiatives that have contributed to their current success, Dean highlights three recent projects: the desulfurization and denitrification system, the installation of the solar power station, and the plant's application of carbon lining materials.

In August 2022, Elkem's carbon plant in China took an important step towards more sustainable production with the launch of its new solar power station. The solar panels were installed in previously unused space that had been idle for over 20 years. With a capacity of 2.7 MW, the station covers approximately 10% of the plant's electricity consumption.

In February 2023, the desulfurization and denitrification system at the plant started its operations. The total investment of the project was 9 million RMB. Desulfurization, denitrification, and wet electric dust removal equipment were added to the back end of the existing calciner’s off gas recovery system to further reduce the emission concentration of pollutants and achieve ultra-low emissions to improve the plant’s environmental protection level.

In addition to the two initiatives, Dean notes that they do their best to continuously improve reduction in power consumption. “We have 6 calciners at the plant and by utilizing carbon lining as an insulator we reduce our energy consumption by 150 kWh per MT we produce” Dean says. Carbon lining increases the plant’s energy efficiency. By reducing heat loss, less energy is required to maintain the desired temperature within the calciners, thereby reducing the plant’s power consumption.

“City plant”

The plant is strategically placed near high quality anthracite reserves. Unlike most other plants in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, Elkem's plant is centrally located in the urban environment of Shizuishan City. The plant’s neighbouring environment requires the plant to maintain high HSE standards. “We have no wastewater, no chemical production, and the small number of emissions that we do have, we control very well” Dean affirms. This unique location underscores the need for the plant to operate with the utmost care and precision. Striving for excellence in their HSE practices, Dean and the team continuously works to ensure the safety of the community and the environment in which they operate.

Customer-centric positioning in a large and fragmented market

“The Chinese market is very different from the rest of the world” Dean confirms.  He further explains that the Chinese market is competitive and fragmented. “We have around 100 competitors just around our plant” Dean mentions. Moreover, the ferroalloys industry has been slow to adopt new technologies. To address the demand for technical expertise, Elkem has positioned itself as a provider of solutions rather than products in the market. “We want to offer comprehensive solutions including our technological expertise to provide value to our customers”, Dean responds when asked about their positioning in the market.

When Dean became responsible for the Ningxia plant, he restructured the teams to create a more customer-centric organization. “We now work cross-functionally as one team”, Dean explains. By merging the sales team with the technical support team, the plant is better positioned to share information and create solutions that the customer needs. Dean has a broad definition of innovation and believes it is the most essential thing to drive and sustain growth. Through Elkem’s EBS principles, the Ningxia team applies a pull-strategy meaning their innovations are rooted in solving their customer’s problems. Dean emphasizes the importance of knowing their customers.

Culture that drives change

“Change is opportunity, but it also means you inevitably make mistakes", Dean underlines when explaining how he thinks about culture. He sees mistakes as catalysts for change and believes that creating a safe environment for people to create change requires a foundation of trust. At Elkem, one of our core values is respect, which Dean believes is essential for building this foundation. Dean encourages the employees to show respect not only towards each other, but also towards partners, suppliers, and customers. He defines respect as being fair, open, and honest, and adds that mutual respect is crucial to fostering a positive culture. “You want employees to communicate with you in all situations and not just when they have good news to share”, Dean states. While Dean acknowledges that change comes with risks, he believes that managing this risk is key to embracing change and seizing opportunities.

Navigating the Future

When asked about the plant’s long-term growth, Dean expresses that they have three focus areas. Firstly, they aim to maintain sustainable growth. By continuing to grow through innovation and development of their human capital, Dean is confident that the plant will continue to meet their targets. Secondly, Dean aspires to set the industry standard and serve as a role model for HSE and ESG practices. Finally, Dean's strategic focus is on talent development to support their long-term growth. Their approach involves growing talent organically and prioritizing employee retention, given the intense competition for skilled workers in the region.

The Ningxia team