Decision time for the Benelux

Decision time for the Benelux
Published: 08 October 2004

Plans by HeidelbergCement to rationalise its Belgium and Netherlands
cement-making operations are expected to be announced later this month. At
present HeidelbergCement operates two large capacity clinker works in
Belgium at Lixhe, where a new kiln line was completed two years ago, and
also at Antoing together with some recently expanded clinker grinding
capacity in the port of Gent. In effect some 3Mta of cement capacity.

In the Netherlands, HeidelbergCement subsidiary ENCI operates the 1.6Mta
Maastricht plant which includes a 1.0Mta clinker line, this plant is seen as
one of the most successful in Europe for its high usage of waste materials
as fuel which gives the plant almost zero fuel costs. In addition, two
clinker grinding plants are operational at Ijmuiden and Rotterdam which in
effect provides ENCI with 3.8Mta of cement-making capacity in Holland.

ENCI does however have problems sourcing its raw materials from a local
limestone quarry at Maastricht, where local opposition groups have voiced
concern in the past over ENCI’s ongoing extraction plans. To aid its
production levels, the Maastricht plant is also served by clinker imports
from the Lixhe works across the border in Belgium.

If HeidelbergCement were to push ahead with a regional reorganisation of its
production facilities in Belgium and the Netherlands, the most likely
scenario could see the ENCI Maastricht works being relegated to a grinding
role only with clinker sourced from both Belgium and possibly northwest
Germany where HeidelbergCement is now busy reorganising its extensive
production base.

Such a move, if enacted, would obviously see a major workforce reduction at
the ENCI Maastricht works, a major local employer, with final figures not
likely to be much higher than around 50 personnel if the plant is demoted to
purely a grinding role in the HeidelbergCement hierarchy.

Whether the recent announcement that Cemex is about to arrive in the north
European sector via its expected purchase of RMC, or the recent Cementir
takeover of Aalborg (and its ability to supply neighbouring Benelux markets)
might have an influence on HeidelbergCement’s strategic planning for this
market region is, of course, another consideration.