Executives at the company say the move will halve the DSM plant's current carbon footprint.
Since acquiring the Jiangshan site from Aland in March 2015, the global ingredients major has spent the past two years upgrading the plant, automating much of production to drive up quality, improving worker safety and upgrading waste water treatment facilities, among other things. In July, this year, it shut down the plant for four months to complete upgrades.
China is taking 'drastic measures'
Speaking exclusively to NutraIngredients-Asia, André Bos, president of global products and strategic alliances for DSM Nutritional Products, said the company had been investing "heavily" to align with strong policy calls from the Chinese government.
"I think you're well aware of what's happening in China with the 'blue sky' policy. We see all over China that the Chinese government, luckily, is very, very serious about getting the air, water and soil quality gradually under control. And to do that gradually, they need to take drastic measures," Bos said.
"This 'beautiful China' or 'blue sky' policy — I would say I've never seen such a rigorous process put in place and followed through, and I hope this continues because it's important for our industry, it's important for China, it's important for the world."
Bos said that through upgrades, DSM had reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the Jingjiang plant — which had a yearly output of between 20-25,000 tons of vitamin C — by 10% to 15%.
Transitioning from coal to natural gas
Sjef Arets, vice-president of manufacturing for Europe and China at DSM, said these GHG reductions had been achieved through a handful of key changes, made during the four-month shut down.
For example, the company had installed a bio-gas boiler and invested strongly in efficient energy recovery, although Arets said the biggest step was closing the facility's in-house coal power plant and switching to a third-party Chinese supplier that had a “larger, more efficient unit”. Whilst still coal-based, he said the new power supply had contributed a large part towards the 10-15% GHG reduction.
However, the long-term plan was to eventually run the entire Jiangshan plant on natural gas through this supplier — a transition expected to take three years, he said, with "pretty well-advanced" plans that had already passed first level approvals.
Bos said: "We made a commitment with the local government, a real strategic collaboration which has been negotiated over the last few years, to go from coal to gas.
"When DSM's vitamin C site in Jiangshan has transformed to a 100% natural gas-based steam supply, instead of coal, the GHG emission and thus the carbon footprint will reduce by approximately 50%. This is roughly 175kT, depending on the reference year."
"We believe in this market"
Bos said China, and the wider Asia-Pacific region, were clear "growth regions" for nutritional ingredients.
"We invested because we believe in this market which is sustainably growing, so to say, from a volume perspective."
He said in China, domestic demand for nutritional ingredients, specifically vitamin C, was on the rise, driven by urbanisation and a shift in how consumers nurtured themselves.
He added that the Jiangshan upgrades made DSM more competitive in the market, but the company still planned to get closer to the market, with plans to work with Chinese research institutes to gain deeper insights.