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Elkem around the world: Thamshavn, Norway

Elkem around the world 12.03.2024

Elkem's Thamshavn plant, situated about 40 km southwest of Trondheim is one of the world’s most energy efficient smelters. Sondre Valle Hestvik is the plant manager of Thamshavn. With a background in finance and experience from various roles at the plant, he stepped into the role as a manager last year and leads Thamshavn’s team of dedicated employees. Among them is Svein Ole Raanes Ysland, the maintenance engineer at Thamshavn who started his career in Elkem in 2004. Drawing on insights from Hestvik and Ysland, this article explores what makes this plant, surrounded by beautiful nature and historical meaning, unique.

From left: Sondre Valle Hestvik and Svein Ole Raanes Ysland

Hestvik explains how Elkem's close relationship with NTNU, one of Norway's largest universities, has helped them stay ahead of the curve. "We have a good connection with the nearby university which is a sparring partner and a great source of knowledge and talent to be located close to," he says. Ysland also adds that they see a positive development in recruitment and of internal talent.

The Thamshavn team consists of dedicated and motivated employees. "Everyone contributes to the culture of continuous improvement and involvement every day; it is part of our DNA" Hestvik shares. The team has a horizontal structure, with everyone working together to improve processes and find new solutions. This collaborative approach coupled with their emphasis on customer centricity, has helped Thamshavn ensure stable operations and meet the needs of Elkem’s customers. “Our customers continuously challenge us, and this motivates us to improve the way we work and our products every day” Hestvik adds.

Thamshavn has employees who have been with Elkem for decades, but also new employees. "It is important to keep a good mix; consistently having some new people come in is a breath of fresh air," Hestvik acknowledges. With the people being Elkem’s most valuable assets, a safe workplace is the main priority. The recent NOK 100m investment to relining one of the furnaces at the plant supports this view. " This investment has laid the foundation for safe and profitable operations for many years to come with this project" Hestvik states.

Elkem produces three products at Thamshavn: silicon, microsilica, and electricity. Silicon is produced for two main segments: chemistry and aluminium. Elkem’s Silicones division is a customer within the chemistry segment and an important cooperation partner. Elkem's customers in the aluminium segment are large plants providing materials for the automotive industry, where silicon plays an important role as an alloying element. Also, Elkem is a pioneer in high grade microsilica production, which is used as an additive to enhance refractory durability and applications which require very high heat resistance. Moreover, Microsilica is applied as an additive in concrete and is used in some of the world's tallest buildings, like the record-breaking Burj Khalifa.

Notably, Thamshavn was one of the first smelters in the world to implement an energy recovery system. Today, the plant generates about 1/3 of its electricity consumed from waste heat generated during the production process. The plant has recovered its energy since the 1980s and is a pioneer in this field. Moreover, furnace cooling water is sold as district heating to the local community, but a significant part of it is also donated to support the local community. “The local water park and football pitches are exclusively operated on heat and electricity from the plant” Hestvik says emphasizing the importance of supporting the sports programs for youths as a cornerstone in the local community. The support from the Elkem plant allows kids and youths to play football all year round.

The Thamshavn plant

As an integral part of the local community, the Thamshavn plant contributes around 150 direct jobs and even more indirect employment through its suppliers and customers. Interns are welcomed to work at Thamshavn as a part of Elkem's two-year trainee program, and the plant has positive experiences with developing interns. In addition, the plant is recruiting young talents as apprentices and are currently having a record level of 17 apprentices working at the plant. "Orkanger is a town built on industrial history; therefore, the community has a deep understanding of why we are here and why what we do is important," Hestvik says. Furthermore, he adds that being in a supportive municipality that helps them in their dialogue with politicians is very important to secure competitive framework conditions for long term investments and stability in operations. As such it is important for the plant and the team to give back to the community.

Looking to the future, the team’s vision for the plant is to become the world’s most environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, and profitable silicon plant, giving proud and motivated employees a safe place to work. “We want to be here for another 100 years and to achieve that working towards this vision is key” Hestvik underlines.