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Loulé’s CIMPOR cement factory turns 50

Events being planned to attract tourists to factory

The CIMPOR cement factory in Loulé celebrated its 50th anniversary last week, with its production manager revealing that there are “several projects” in the pipeline for the future.

While the factory’s facilities seem to not have changed much over time, there has been a big upgrade in terms of technology, especially concerning the environmental engineering that has been implemented.

So says Fernando Carichas, with 31 years of experience in the company that operates the Loulé factory, one of three factories in Portugal, and the production manager since November 2017.

“The reality is very different today from what it was when the factory started operating in the golden years of construction in the Algarve. At this moment, we have several projects to optimise our operation and reduce costs, with the goal of preparing for the future,” Carichas told Barlavento newspaper.

“We are on a journey that started in 2012 with the co-incineration of alternative fuels in the precalciner burner of the kiln. It started with a substitution rate of around 10% to 12%. In other words, no fossil fuel is burned; Refuse-Derived Fuel (RDF) is burned, such as crushed tire chips, plastics, paper, and common industrial waste. This year, our goal is to reach 35%. And we have plans to reach 40%. This is the great innovation. Why? In addition to the precalciner, we are also co-incinerating alternative fuels in the main kiln burner. Essentially, olive pulp and olive pit,” he said.

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According to Carichas, the plant-origin biomass comes from the Alentejo, and the RDF is supplied by Ambigroup and SGR from Seixal because the Algarve does not produce the required amount of material.

“Everything is volatilised, and the ashes of some materials, if they have any, are incorporated into the clinker” – the material resulting from the calcination of limestone, which is the main ingredient of cement.

Today, the production centre operates at about 50% of its installed capacity. “It amounts to 300,000 tons/year of clinker and 400,000 tons/year of cement.”

The factory has 85 employees and 42 external workers from subcontracted companies with permanent fixed contracts, in areas such as maintenance, repair, mechanical work, as well as in the manufacturing part in terms of process cleaning and all operations in the quarries of Cerro da Cabeça Alta (limestone), Passagem (schist) located 20 kilometres (km) from the production centre near the village of Querença, and Milhanes (plaster), in the outskirts of Tôr, 12km away.

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UK among best clients

One of the biggest clients of the Loulé factory is Somincor – Sociedade Mineira de Neves-Corvo, which uses cement for tunnel and gallery reinforcement. “They represent a large percentage of our sales,” said the factory manager.

In terms of exports, besides neighbouring Spain, the main destination for Loulé cement is the United Kingdom (England and Scotland) in bulk. “It is exported from the Faro Commercial Port on small-draft ships with a capacity of four to five thousand tonnes. The domestic market is also going through a very good phase,” Carichas said.

The underlying question is whether it is sustainable to keep an industrial structure working at half capacity.

“At the moment, it still is,” the manager says. Even if there is a future trend of decreasing cement consumption, Carichas says that the factory can focus on exporting to developing countries, although some “already have quite acceptable production levels.

“For example, Angola produces more cement than it needs. Mozambique has China’s influence.”

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Environmental requisites “becoming more demanding”

CIMPOR in Loulé is also doing what it can to reduce its environmental impact.

“We have great respect and a very special concern for environmental and safety aspects. The company has invested heavily in everything related to gas and dust emissions,” said Fernando Carichas, stressing that legal emission values are becoming increasingly stringent.

One of the upcoming challenges will be decarbonisation.

“In my personal opinion, it is possible, but indirectly. Cement cannot be produced without carbonate material. However, it is possible to capture the CO2 produced during the process,” he said.

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Industrial tourism

The Covid-19 pandemic spelled the end of CIMPOR’s factory tours, which were open to anyone who was interested in visiting the facilities in Loulé but which are due to be resumed soon.

In fact, on Friday (September 22), CIMPOR’s quarries will receive a visit from a group of artists attending the Visual Arts Course promoted by FLAD – Luso-American Development Foundation in Loulé. “The goal is for them to get ideas for their work,” said Carichas.

The company is also organising a trail run in November to commemorate its 50th anniversary. There will be two 15- and 25- kilometre paths to choose from and we aim to have more than 1,000 people here,” he said.

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Carichas also revealed an openness to participating in a future edition of the ‘Discovering Industrial Tourism’ national agenda, which the regional tourism board (RTA) joined in April of this year.

One point of interest that could attract tourists to the factory would be the top of the cyclones, which are 70 metres tall and boast an “unprecedented view of the entire industrial complex, the coastline, and the Via do Infante (motorway).”

Original article written by Bruno Filipe Pires for Barlavento newspaper