Harvesting the Sun
Dachser assists BASF with transportation of hazardous goods for a thermal solar power plant in Morocco
A good film needs excitement, drama, heroes and a happy ending. The construction of the world’s largest thermal solar power plant in Morocco has all of these. BASF and Dachser have transformed the logistics of this project into the main actors in this success story in Cinemascope format.
The story begins with a setback. The Desertec solar project had the goal of solving Europe’s energy problems once and for all with electricity from the North African desert. Alas, this never became a reality. Interests changed, large-scale investors pulled out of the project, and political upheavals and scenarios of terrorist action threatened stability in North Africa. Dramatic developments may be good for Hollywood films, but in the world of business they have often put an end to cooperative efforts that started with great optimism. Such was the case with Desertec. However, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI did not accept the end of the idea of electricity from the desert; instead, he promoted Morocco's own ambitious energy strategy: By 2020 the country will expand its capacities for solar energy, wind energy and hydroelectric power, by 2,000 megawatt each.
The stage for Project Noor (Arabic for ‘light’) is located near the town of Ouarzazate in south Morocco. It is the scene of one of the greatest adventures for the future – and Dachser is playing a leading role. The surrounding landscape could hardly be more spectacular. The terrain is characterized by rugged rock formations and fort-like villages built in red sandstone. This is why so many blockbusters, such as Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Pope Joan and The Physician and the US fantasy series Game of Thrones have been filmed here, as well as many biblical films.
While cinema is concerned with fiction, the energy business is interested in hard facts. “Noor” stands for the world’s largest thermal solar energy plant. Set in an area of almost 7,500 acres, four separate power plants will be constructed.
Within two years the complex is expected to produce up to 560 megawatts of energy per year. Noor 1 will come into operation this year. When it is complete, the power plant complex will produce environmentally friendly energy for over 1.2 million people and will save up to approximately 800,000 t CO2 emissions per year.
Storing solar energy
This is possible with the use of modern thermal solar power plants. The process makes use of parabolic mirrors, as well as a mixture of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate. Solar energy heats up this molten mixture so that the energy can be stored. The result is similar to a water bath: energy is released as the molten mixture cools. Thanks to this, the power plant can generate power even when the sun is not shining. The sodium nitrate is supplied by chemical company BASF from Ludwigshafen. Intermediate storage, which began in May 2014 as well as the delivery to the construction site, are coordinated by Dachser in Morocco.
“The order was preceded by many years of persuasion,” recalls Rüdiger Erb, Business Development Manager Chem-Logistics at Dachser in Kempten. The story of the project is almost worthy of a film. As early as 2012, BASF examined the possibilities for storing and supplying hazardous substances. However, the framework conditions for this concept changed several times.
From the very start, the greatest problem was to find suitable storage for hazardous substances in this North African country. “BASF had very definite ideas, because the company’s high safety standards apply throughout the world,” explains Erb. These requirements also applied for such obvious items as a sprinkler system, but this equipment isn’t always a matter of course in Morocco. The BASF requirements also stated that the fire protection walls and gates must withstand a fire for at least 90 minutes and that the forklift trucks must be explosion-proof. Water collection tanks for extinguishing fires, 24/7 surveillance with cameras and a fully fenced site are also mandatory. “Initially, the results of the search for the right location were – to put it simply – very discouraging,” explains Erb. Few of the storage facilities there met BASF’s requirements. Even the best available storage facilities suffered from low roofs, permeable floors or even rusty piping.
Casablanca turns things around
When it became clear that Noor was the successor to Desertec and Dachser resumed the search for sites on behalf of BASF, the chemical logistics experts finally found what they were looking for in Casablanca. “A Moroccan company had recognized that in the future, storage facilities for hazardous substances could be a promising line of business. They offered a storage facility with fireproof compartments and an area of over 100,000 m² (over 1 million sq. ft.),” says M’hamed Chraibi, General Manager, South Morocco. The equipment of the storage facility also complied with the stringent standards of Dachser and BASF. Since the middle of last year, the chemical company is now storing so-called “bigbags” of sodium nitrate in an area of 8,000 m² (86,000 sq. ft.) in two of these compartments. Since July, Dachser’s task has been to bring these bigbags to the construction site in Ouarzazate – on schedule. The logistics company has three months in which to do this.
However, this is easier said than done. Since the terrorist attack on a hotel in Sousse in Tunisia, the security situation in North Africa has intensified dramatically. “First we had to find a reliable company that could guarantee two years in advance that it could provide 15 trucks per day for three months,” explains Erb. In addition, this company had to provide drivers who not only had the corresponding ADR equipment and training for the international transportation of hazardous substances by road, but who were also capable of performing small deeds of heroism every day.
“After the terrorist attack we were only allowed to travel with a police escort. That is a completely new challenge for the logistics,” says Erb. “Because of this, the 280-mile route between Casablanca and Ouarzazate took twice the time that we had planned. The convoys are now on the road for 12 to 13 hours until they reach their destination.” In the Atlas Mountains there are no motorways and some of the roads are very narrow and winding. The route crosses the Tizi n’Tichka Pass. With an altitude of 7,414 feet, this is one of the highest mountain roads in Morocco. A total of 1,100 trucks must travel this route to Ouarzazate. This not only requires a great deal of skill in driving in convoys, but also ‘logistics in Cinemascope format’.
By the time the thermal solar power plant is complete, a total of about 24,000 tons of chemicals will have been transported over the ridge of the Atlas Mountains, and a distance of 705,000 miles will have been traveled. The first stage is the official start of Phase 1, on January 1, 2016. And then, just as on the silver screen, the story is “To be continued”.
Alexander Heintze for Dachser