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  • Dear Readers!

    There is good cause for celebration! 30 years of a unified Germany. Or perhaps we should say: ‘30 years of working on a unified Germany’? Seen from a historical perspective, it is certainly true to say that the reunification process has not yet been completed. In fact, looking at Germany’s history, you might well be excused for thinking that this process will never be completed. Each individual region has its own cultural peculiarities, its own dialect, its own sensibilities, its own breed of people. And, of course, their traditional dishes are worlds apart from each other. But that’s the way it should be as it is the differences that create a strong dynamic for change and enrich our culture and economy. Having said all that, we are still quite a young nation. Germany really hasn’t been around that long. Our country – as a federation of states – did not come into being until almost 100 years after the United States of America was founded. And we are all well aware that they are still working hard on unifying their nation.

    We are very grateful that our family-run business has been able to play a constructive role in shaping the reunification process from the start. While criticism continues to be directed towards the Treuhand (the agency responsible for privatising the former East German enterprises) for the way it acted – its focus was often on processing rather than developing – our aim has always been on finding robust, future-oriented solutions by working closely on the ground with the different city and regional authorities. The results speak for themselves – whether it be in the Lausitz region where our public private joint venture WAL Betrieb provides water management services and has kept fees and charges stable and jobs secure for decades now despite the region’s declining population; or in Schwerin, where the public private partnership between the city and REMONDIS has been hugely successful at delivering key services cost effectively. And these are just two examples of many. It was – and continues to be – the amazing personal dedication of the company’s employees in the regions that made it possible for REMONDIS to become a local east German family-run business in these new areas after the wall fell. What’s more, some of the family moved from the Westphalian town of Selm to make their home in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – but this just as a side note. Unity requires active commitment, as does sustainable development. REMONDIS is dedicated to both, always working with the future in mind.

    One thing is certain: there are a lot of things still – or once again – to be done. The recession brought on by Covid-19 is having a dramatic impact on the finances of local authorities. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the cities and districts faced a shortfall of 9.7 billion euros in the first six months of this year. As a comparison: the deficit amounted to just 0.3 billion euros a year ago. The reason for this negative trend was the drastic fall in revenue received by local governments in the second quarter of 2020. The German economy nosedived by 9.7% between April and June – the first time it has ever had to face such a huge drop. Yet another reason then for thinking about how the pressure can be taken off local governments in the future. They don’t have to do everything by themselves – the private sector is happy to help. Public private partnerships are a robust solution for delivering cost-intensive essential services, such as waste management and water management tasks. I and Professor Michael Schäfer, retired professor of public sector economics at the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, illustrate this very clearly with the help of many examples in one of the books we co-authored – and we don’t forget to mention the negative examples either. As everyone knows, people learn from their mistakes so they can do a better job in the future. And this is precisely what we are doing together with our friends and partners in the not so new states in the east of Germany, in Europe and across the world.

    We hope you enjoy reading this latest issue. Stay safe!

    Yours

    Ludger Rethmann

A project involving hazardous materials

  • The commissioning of a state-of-the-art climate wind tunnel test centre at Ford’s development centre in Cologne-Merkenich meant that two of its old wind tunnels were no longer needed. BUCHEN was put in charge of removing the hazardous substances from these old systems. A particularly challenging project as this involved extracting thermal oil as well as a refrigerant containing sodium dichromate – two substances that require both high levels of expertise and an individual approach if they are to be handled safely.

A state-of-the-art test centre

  • Ford operates a cutting-edge test centre in Cologne that is home to three climate wind tunnels. It is the most modern of its kind in Europe and unites the world’s different weather conditions under one roof. Whether it be the Sahara or Siberia – each and every type of weather found on earth can be simulated on an area the size of a football pitch: high-speed winds up to 250 km/h, altitudes of 5,200 metres (the equivalent of the base camp on the north side of Mount Everest) as well as temperatures ranging from -40°C to +55°C.

    Every type of weather found on earth can be simulated on an area the size of a football pitch.

    This highly modern ‘Weather Factory’ replaces two separate test facilities that had been used for many years to expose Ford’s vehicles to extreme weather conditions. No longer needed, these old wind tunnels now had to be dismantled. A task that was no less challenging than the extreme conditions the wind tunnels had themselves created as all hazardous substances had to be first removed and the systems chemically cleaned before they could be taken apart.

A particularly difficult chemical

All traces of the thermal oil – a highly inflammable mixture of hydrocarbons, isoalkanes and aromatic compounds – had to be removed before these old test facilities could be safely dismantled. Once extracted, the oil was then sent on for further processing or thermal treatment. As far as the refrigerant was concerned, it was its sodium dichromate content that was of particular concern. While this environmentally hazardous substance made up just one percent of the refrigerant, it can have both a toxic and oxidising effect. This chemical is no longer used today and is particularly difficult to dispose of. As it was technically impossible to fully remove the sodium dichromate from the ammonia solution, re-using the refrigerant or parts of the refrigerant was out of the question.

A bespoke concept

Faced with this complex situation, BUCHEN developed a bespoke concept for dismantling the climate wind tunnels that combined the company’s in-depth knowledge and experiences it had gathered from similar projects. Its next step was to discuss this concept in detail with its customer, in particular with Ford’s safety officers and engineers.

In fact, for the refrigerant alone, BUCHEN put forward four alternative solutions for chemically cleaning the facilities and disposing of the hazardous substances. In the end, Ford opted for the proposal that involved separating the ammonia from the ammonia solution and using a mobile treatment unit on site to incinerate and transform it into nitrogen and steam. Following this, the remaining watery solution – now only containing traces of ammonia – could be filled into a separate container and sent for disposal.

A vacuum vehicle in action

    • The thermal oil systems were first emptied and then chemically cleaned. To be able to do this, BUCHEN injected an oil-soluble emulsifier into the facility while it was in operation so that it could spread throughout the whole of the system. Once this had been completed, a vacuum/cleaning vehicle was deployed to empty any oil-containing pipes and vessels at their lowest point and then fill them with water. The result: this combination of water and thermal oil residue displaced by the emulsifier created an oil-in-water emulsion, which was pumped around the system for a while before being vacuumed off into the vehicle. The results of this cleaning work were so good that the original additional and final step of cleaning the system with clear water was no longer necessary. This considerably reduced the amount of wastewater that the customer had to have treated.

    BUCHEN developed a concept for Ford that went far beyond the norm. The result: high levels of safety, rapid completion times, highest possible volumes of recovered materials and minimised waste management costs.

     

    Thanks to its meticulous planning work, BUCHEN needed just a few days to remove the hazardous substances. Once this essential work had been completed, the facilities were then able to be dismantled safely and without incident. Ford’s facility engineers can now focus fully on their new climate wind tunnel test centre and Ford drivers can rest assured that their vehicles will be able to cope with all weather conditions, no matter how punishing they may be.

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