Environmental protection at Olen

The Olen plant is one of the four copper production sites of Aurubis and specializes in the production of cathodes, Aurubis Rod, Aurubis Foxrod, and Aurubis Bars & Profiles.

During the past several years, the site has successfully increased its input of recycling materials, which poses significant challenges to the treatment of air emissions, leading to extensive measures.

Improving environmental protection is and remains a very important objective in Olen. Since 2000 about € 21.5 million has been invested in environmental protection. 

One of the key projects of the last few years is the new facility for (un)loading barges with containers, called Cu-Port, which was constructed in 2020. Transports that were previously carried out by truck are now carried out by waterway. This prevents a total of about 20,000 of truck movements per year and thus over 230 t of yearly CO2 emissions. In addition, the project leads to a reduction in noise emissions at the site and its surroundings.

In 2016, four 200 meter high wind turbines were built and commissioned at the Olen plant. This € 20 million investment project is a cooperation with a partner from the energy sector and two industrial companies, including Aurubis. Every unit has a capacity of 3.5 megawatts (14 megawatts in total). These wind turbines provide 28 million kWh of electricity annually, which is directly used at the sites of the industrial project partners and reduces the CO2 emissions. On top of this, an R&D project is running to define and implement measures to meet the European Green Deal requirements and ensure a sustainable energy supply to the Olen site for the future.

Another focus of the site is the reduction of metal emissions to water and the impact of our production on bodies of water. In order avoid the impact to the nature reserve Olens Broek through cleaned effluent of the site’s wastewater treatment plant, a new effluent pipeline was commissioned in 2015. With this pipeline, the former sewer that ran through the nature reserve was taken out of service and the nature reserve was completely bypassed by the new effluent pipeline. In addition, the point of discharge was chosen in such a way that contact with the nature reserve is ruled out due to the direction of the river’s flow.

The introduction of the environmental management system in accordance with ISO 14001 started at the rod production plant in 1998. Since 2006, the environmental management system for all activities of Aurubis Belgium has been ISO 14001-certified. In 2020, the energy management system, which was until then part of the environmental management system, was extended, upgraded, and certified in accordance with ISO 50001. Quality management is also certified in accordance with ISO 9001. By mid-2021, the health and safety management system will be certified in accordance with ISO 45001.

Environmental Protection Olen - facts & figures
Metal emissions

The metal emissions to water per ton of copper output have been reduced by 92 % since 2004.

Metals in water emissions have been significantly reduced over the years. The main focus is now on continuous improvements regarding the operational performance of the wastewater treatment plant and improving the pre-treatment of wastewater flows at the point of origin in the production processes in order to lower the incoming load to the wastewater treatment plant. Furthermore a water management project has been initiated at the site in order to reduce the intake of fresh water, to reduce the water discharge volumes and to maximize the re-use of water.  

Energy consumption

The energy consumption per ton of copper output has been reduced by 11 % since 2000.

Today, only comparatively small improvements can be achieved within the plant boundaries, because there are technological limits to the reduction of energy consumption and emissions. Further implementation of feasible and cost-effective energy reduction measures is still planned with scope of an agreement with the Flemish authorities. For that purpose, at the wire rod plant, additional pumps and fans will be equipped with energy-efficient frequency control units in fiscal year 2021/22 at the latest. Also at our wire rod plant, the rinsing water will be heated with condensate of the steam from the air heaters to further reduce energy consumption. At our main furnace, a new heat exchanger to heat up the boiler feed water with the exhaust gases downstream of the recovery boiler will be installed (Implementation planned until 2021/22).

Dust emissions

The dust emissions per ton of copper output have been reduced by 87 % since 2000.

Further reductions of dust emissions are to be achieved with the implementation of a new filtering concept. In 2020, we successfully completed the first step where a new quench system in combination with a bag filter was installed and connected to the main furnace. A second step to be completed by 2021 relates to measures targeting a reduction of the emissions from the material loading section of the main furnace.

Environmental Protection Measures & Projects
Air emission reduction

Next steps:

  • Assessment of fugitive emissions situation will be conducted, including an action plan for the reduction of fugitive emissions. Further reduction of organic compounds in (stack) emissions planned.


  • Ongoing

Improve waste water treatment

Next Steps:

  • Further reduction of contaminants emitted to waste water on department/installation level (before end treatment at the WWTP).


  • Ongoing

Implementation of ISO 50001

Degree of implementation:

  • Successful certification on July 15, 2020.


  • Done

Work out strategy on removal and management of asbestos containing (building) materials

Next Steps:

  • Replacement of roof and façades of building 541 planned in fiscal year 2020/21. The roofs of two other buildings will be replaced in the coming years.


  • Ongoing

Reduction of PCDD/F emissions at main furnace

Next Steps:

  • Off-gas filter and quench replaced in 2020. 

  • New encapsulated loading system for the anode shaft furnace is being engineered.


  • Ongoing

Reduction of wire rod plant sulphate emissions to water

Next Steps:

  • Investigation on replacement of existing electrowinning installation.


  • Ongoing

Improved storage of flammable liquids and aerosols

Next Steps:

  • Special safety cabinets for flammable liquids and aerosols installed throughout the plant.


  • Implemented

Environmental Protection milestones at Olen site

In the summer of 2020, the first phase of the off-gas improvement project at the wire rod plant concluded. A completely new off-gas filter and a new quench, positioned right at the exit of the anode shaft furnace, improves the quality of the off-gasses emitted to air. In 2021, a new encapsulated loading system to feed the same furnace will be installed for further improvement.


Until the beginning of 2020, all containers, mainly with copper scrap, came into the factory by road transport. Only part of the incoming blister and anodes were already transported into the site by train and water¬way. In March 2020, a new quay and crane were commissioned. Now up to 10,000 containers per year can be moved in and out of Aurubis Belgium in Olen, situated along the Bocholt-Herentals Canal, via barges. This relieves the access roads to the plant of 20,000 truck movements per year and facilitates an important modal shift!


In cooperation with a neighboring company and the producer of electricity for our plant, in 2016 four giant wind turbines were erected on and near the plant. These wind turbines with a rotor tip height of 200 meters provide 14 MW of green electrical power to the Olen plants and reduce the carbon footprint by 24.500 t, which corresponds to the electrical energy consumption of more than 9,000 households.


At the end of 2015, an effluent pipeline of nearly 2 km was taken into operation. This pipeline directly transports the cleaned effluent of the waste water treatment plant to the river Kleine Nete, thus reducing the environmental pressure on a natural reserve, north of the Aurubis plant.


In order to reduce the impact of noise from the scrap unloading and baling activities, a noise reduction wall was installed alongside the main road near the plant in 2012, leading to a noise reduction of 20 dB(A) to the neighbouring houses. Sound pressure level is halved by 3 dB with each reduction.

Certificates Aurubis Olen
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Filip Lecomte

Environmental Manager

Phone +32 1424 3444
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