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In February 2021, roughly 100 days ago, Krefeld-based slag processor C.C. Umwelt was taken over by a new shareholder: Blue Phoenix, a slag recycling company based in Rotterdam (Netherlands). The new owner purchased its 100-percent stake in the slag specialist from Frankfurt-based investment firm Novum Capital. Here, the CEO of C.C., Dieter Kersting (63), takes a look back – and forward.
Mr Kersting, in February 2021, the C.C. Group was acquired by a new shareholder with a 100-percent stake in the company – for the second time since 2018. Looking back, what are your thoughts on two transfers of ownership happening in such a relatively short time?
Dieter Kersting: I am very happy about it. In 2020, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the C.C. Group. At the time, our market position was already better than it had been before Novum Capital acquired our company. Novum played a very important role in our company’s development into a successful business with seven locations in Germany. Another important factor in this was, of course, our DNA, which is that of a medium-sized company. And now, with Blue Phoenix, we can continue with our progress.
Let’s talk about Novum Capital a bit more. The public’s perception of financial investors like Novum isn’t always favourable. What are your thoughts on this?
I have good memories of our time together. Novum Capital was by our side for three years, providing intense and positive support. Among other things, we were able to invest a lot of money in technological innovations. Another important aspect was being able to concentrate on our core business. Novum Capital literally pushed us to do this – and quite rightly so. Up until then, we had been paying too much attention to peripheral activities.
What do you mean exactly?
Before Novum Capital acquired its stake in our company, we not only processed waste incineration slags and safely disposed of filter dust in backfill mines, we were also heavily involved in the scrap trade, for example. With the explicit support of Novum Capital, we moved away from this area to focus solely on slags, filter dust and mineral recovery. We realised that, just like C.C. is a slag specialist, other companies are scrap specialists. And we are not.
How did you feel about these strategic changes? After all, you have been with the C.C. Group for more than 30 years and played your part in pursuing these peripheral activities.
I must admit, I was taken aback at first when Novum Capital introduced the idea of selling off our scrap segment. After all, there are people who are affected by such decisions. But it’s a bit like in football: if a player doesn’t quite fit into the structure of the team, then sooner or later he will move to a different club. And in most cases, everyone will benefit from this.
Even the C.C. staff in question?
The company that acquired our scrap business also took on all of the employees. We managed to implement these changes in such a way that, ultimately, everybody could feel good about them: the staff, C.C.’s management team and the shareholder.
Let’s revisit your football analogy: Changes to the team usually mean changes to the playing system as well. Was it the same for you when Novum Capital acquired its stake in your company?
Yes, especially as, up until then, we had not been implementing certain aspects of modern business management in the way that we should have. Working with Novum, the C.C. management team modernised not only our technological means but also our organisational structures, business management processes, and Accounting and Compliance.
Which is good news for the Blue Phoenix Group, too?
Of course. These changes will also benefit Blue Phoenix as Novum Capital’s successor as our shareholder. For example, our slag processing technologies complement each other perfectly.
“We have already seen within the first 100 days with Blue Phoenix as the new shareholder just how great our synergies can be.”
In what way?
Well, to name but one example: our “Stratego” machinery. It is the first of its kind in the entire world, and it takes the processing of non-ferrous (NF) metals from waste incineration slags to a whole new level. Blue Phoenix already operates similar machinery – and now we are combining these two technological approaches. We have already seen within the first 100 days with Blue Phoenix as the new shareholder just how great our synergies can be.
What kind of synergies?
Staying with the exchange of technological expertise: This will once again increase the yield of our slag processing machinery and the quality of the metals we recover from the slag. But there also advantages for storage management, for example. This exchange is exciting, and we are each learning from the other.
Why is storage area management so important?
Let me give you some background information first: The incinerated household waste leaves the incinerator as slag with a temperature of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius. The slag is doused in water and then transported to our storage areas by truck. There, the raw slag is left to dry to avoid it clogging up the machinery. An endothermic reaction takes place within the slag, meaning the slag itself creates warmth. Clever storage area management takes into account the respective type of endothermic reaction. Another factor is pressure.
Can you elaborate?
Scientists have discovered that, depending on the storage height of the slag at the storage site, the temperature of the slag will ideally rise to 40, 30 or 20 degrees Celsius. Depending on the different temperatures and pressure, we can improve the metal yield from our machines. This is a science unto itself. And now, we can share our knowledge with our new partner Blue Phoenix. This exchange is valuable – for both partners.
How have the C.C. Group’s employees adjusted to the new shareholder?
Like its predecessor Novum Capital, Blue Phoenix is involving us in the decisions. And we are already familiar with this type of shareholder: Blue Phoenix, too, is a financial investor, backed, among others, by pension funds. Novum Capital’s approach was accepted within our company. The same applies to Blue Phoenix now; in fact, even more so.
Even more? How so? Surely that is not a given?
Well, actually, it is. Blue Phoenix is not only a financial investor, but also a strategic investor who is very well positioned in our market: with tremendous technical expertise and many locations all over the world.
And what is the situation outside your company, i.e. with your customers – especially the operators of waste incineration plants?
Exactly the same. In the days running up to the transition from Novum Capital to Blue Phoenix, we personally notified as many customers as possible. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. And we are convinced that it will stay that way.
“Sustainability and the circular economy are becoming increasingly important. C.C.’s customers can rely on our support to help them shape a successful future for themselves.”
What do your customers value in particular?
Our customers have high-standard and rather conservative expectations. They expect a high degree of competence regarding the core business, a secure financial basis, and technological innovations. After all, sustainability and the circular economy are becoming increasingly important. C.C.’s customers can rely on our support to help them shape a successful future for themselves.
Tell us about the plans you and your new shareholder Blue Phoenix have for your joint future.
Above all, we want to continue to improve in quality. With our “Stratego” slag processing machinery, we have shown that we can successfully implement innovations and offer customers an even better price-performance ratio. Incidentally, other European countries are nowhere near as advanced as Germany when it comes to promoting a circular economy in slag recycling. That is why we would like to apply our expertise at other domestic and also foreign locations in the future.
In addition, you are also considering new ways in which to recycle the residual slag, aren’t you?
Indeed, we are. Up until now, our customers have used processed slags mainly in landfill and road construction. However, slags can also be used for other, more complex projects.
I don’t want to give away any details yet. Suffice to say: our main goal at all times is to contribute to the reuse of supposed “waste materials” in order to conserve natural resources.
You have been with the C.C. Group for more than three decades now. Have you still not had enough?
(Laughs) Of course not! My weekends are enough retirement for me! As long as I’m fit and healthy and enjoy my work, I want to stay loyal to the C.C. Group. I have absolutely no objection to staying on for another three, four or even five years! I am still hungry for the success of our company. And in any case: the word ‘enough’ does not exist in our vocabulary here at C.C.!
Thank you for talking to us.
Julian Ueberall is a force to be reckoned with. At only 28 years old, he is the operations manager for three different facilities: As well as making sure that everything runs smoothly at the Krefeld and Hagen sites, he also oversees the “Stratego” machinery. In this podcast, he talks about his journey to and within the company, his current responsibilities and his plans for the future.
Click on the button below to load the content from ccgruppe.podigee.io (interview conducted in German).
The C.C. Group, one of the leading disposal and recycling specialists for incineration waste in Germany, is resisting the current economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Here, Managing Directors Dieter Kersting and Roberto Grau reflect on the reasons for their success, their plans for expansion and benefits for their customers.
Mr. Kersting, the coronavirus pandemic is having a detrimental impact on the German economy. What is C.C.’s view on this crisis?
Dieter Kersting: For us, the most important issue during the coronavirus crisis remains the same as before: We must offer waste incineration plants a 100-percent acceptance guarantee. After all, waste incineration is continuing at normal rates, which is why we are receiving roughly the same quantities of slag and filter dust as before the pandemic. In order to guarantee acceptance security for our customers, our sites are now operating in line with pandemic plans. In addition, we are keeping sufficient storage space available and, back in May, we introduced a night shift at our headquarters in Krefeld. This will help us to ensure that we have enough available storage space for every eventuality.
How long do you plan on working in the three-shift system?
As things stand, until 31 August.
Have you noticed any differences in the composition of the slag? After all, many more people are working from home now, so the C.C. Group must be recycling a much greater amount of slag from incinerated household waste?
Dieter Kersting: That is correct. The percentage of household waste in the incineration mix we receive from waste incineration plants is rapidly rising, while the percentage of commercial waste is falling. Taken together, the weekly slag quantities have remained almost consistent. The quality is more or less the same, too. However, we are observing that, at times, the amount of coarse ferrous fractions typically found in industrial waste is in decline, while finer non-ferrous fractions are ‘on the rise’.
Is it possible for the slags to be “infected” with the COVID-19 virus?
No. From a virological standpoint, the slags are safe, because the waste incineration process takes place at 1,000 to 1,300 degrees Celsius. The virus will not survive that.
German newspaper “Die Welt“ recently wrote: “Germany’s private waste management sector is increasingly under pressure due to the COVID-19 crisis. It is true that the disposal of household waste is more important than ever. The amount of this type of waste is also increasing […]. Industry experts recently estimated an increase of up to 20 percent. However, this business is mostly the responsibility of municipal companies.” What does this mean for you?
Roberto Grau: This is another aspect that speaks for the C.C. Group. Our largest customers are precisely such municipal companies. In some cases, we have been in partnerships with them for many decades and have established a very trusting relationship.
So, your business is crisis-proof?
Dieter Kersting: Well, let’s not count our chickens before they hatch – but yes, so far, we have been very lucky. We are receiving usual quantities for the three pillars of our disposal and recycling business – slags, filter dusts and mineral waste.
And what about the materials you sell on: the metals you extract from the slags and process?
Dieter Kersting: We are happy in this respect, too, especially as we benefit from relative price stability in regard to the entire metal division. For example, copper prices are currently under pressure, but the prices of precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium are going up.
“We are very pleased that our technology is one of the reasons we are crisis-proof.”
In the above-mentioned newspaper article, “Die Welt” also quotes a recent position paper by the German Association for Waste Management (DGAW), according to which there is mounting evidence that “households are becoming more careless about sorting their waste”.
Roberto Grau: For us, this means that the slags from incinerated household waste are likely to contain more materials to recycle and sell on. However, we are only partly pleased about this. In the interests of resource conservation and environmental protection, we advocate consistent waste separation. What we are very pleased about, though, is that our technology is one of the reasons we are crisis-proof.
Roberto Grau: Well, we undertook a multimillion-euro investment after the C.C. Group was acquired by Frankfurt-based investor, Novum Capital. And once again, this investment has payed off. I am referring, of course, to our state-of-the-art metal finishing machinery, “Stratego”, which we put into operation at our Krefeld site at the end of July 2019.
Novum Capital acquired your company at the beginning of 2018. How is your relationship with the new owner today?
Dieter Kersting: Motivating – as it has been from the beginning. Novum Capital provides us with strategic support, both through its capital and its expertise. Our management team still runs the day-to-day business. The significant increase in the efficiency and quality of the recycling processes at all of our C.C. sites is a good example of how well we work together.
Back to “Stratego”. What can this machine do?
Roberto Grau: First of all: Without “Stratego”, we were only able to extract one big mixture of light and heavy non-ferrous metals (NF metals) from the incineration slags, and thus had to return them to the commercial cycle in this form. With “Stratego”, we have performed a quantum leap in the recovery of raw materials. We are now able to extract NF metals by type. “Stratego” separates light NF metals (mainly aluminum) contained in the slag from heavy NF metals (in particular: copper, gold, silver, platinum and palladium). This allows us to process very small fragments of non-ferrous metals: We can now recover and refine certain fractions from sizes as small as 0.1 millimeters.
What makes this an advantage during the COVID-19 crisis?
Roberto Grau: The crisis is causing a decline in the quantity of ferrous metals contained in waste incinerator slags – and a rise in the quantity of non-ferrous metals. This means that we can use all the benefits of “Stratego” – and the waste incinerators receive the same amount of money for their slags as before the COVID-19 crisis. So, “Stratego” is profitable for both parties. In addition, we can now sell the extracted and refined metals in “Stratego quality” directly to metal smelters. In the past, we had to sell to external refiners, which reduced our profit margin.
It sounds as though “Stratego” is living up to your expectations.
Roberto Grau: Absolutely. We are seeing the projected throughput, achieving an excellent yield and purity of the non-ferrous metals, and sorting the metals perfectly into heavy and light metals. And there is still potential for further improvement.
How, for example?
Roberto Grau: We are planning to equip “Stratego” with a fourth air table. This unit will help us to separate the NF metals by type. This is done by means of an air flow, taking into account the specific weight of the metals. We are also constantly improving the machinery at our other sites.
Can you give an example of this, too?
Roberto Grau: One by one, we are equipping the machines at our slag locations in Hagen, Würzburg and Schwandorf with additional collection units. The reason is that precious metals in particular mainly occur in ultra-fine fractions. At our headquarters in Krefeld, we are gaining more experience with “Stratego”, which we can transfer to all the other machines.
“Alternative construction materials continue to be a very important topic for the future. We plan to produce them in increasingly high quality, using waste incineration slags as a basis.”
What are your thoughts on expansion? Most companies are waiting for the coronavirus crisis to pass.
Dieter Kersting: Here, too, our plans remain unchanged: Alternative construction materials continue to be a very important topic for the future. We plan to produce them in increasingly high quality, using waste incineration slags as a basis. Our customers use them for civil engineering projects, industrial warehouses, road construction and landfill construction. We want to further improve their quality to produce higher grades of construction materials, which will make us even less reliant on road and landfill construction.
So, you already have new fields of application in mind?
Dieter Kersting: Absolutely. For example, we are very interested in cement research. We are certain that we will soon be able to produce quality slags that can be used as aggregates for cement. Innovations are needed in this area because building sand is becoming scarce. After all, the C.C. Group exists for the conservation of resources.
Roberto Grau: In this sense, too, “Stratego” is extremely valuable. To give you an example: producing aluminum from bauxite requires an immense amount of energy. The so-called secondary metal we extract from the slag has an energy footprint that is 19 times better than that of the primary metal! Among others, this means that “Stratego” alone reduces CO2 emissions by 100,000 tons per year.
Can you put these 100,000 tons of CO2 into context for us?
Roberto Grau: Of course. On average, a medium-sized car in Germany produces around two tons of CO2 emissions every year. In other words, “Stratego” saves as much CO2 as is produced by 50,000 medium-sized cars on Germany’s roads every year.
Could the coronavirus crisis have a negative effect on the debate on climate protection?
Dieter Kersting: We don’t expect it to. At the moment, science itself is proving that it is indispensable for solving existential social problems. This trend is likely to gain further momentum – including the debate on climate protection. The C.C. Group remains committed to the conservation of resources and climate protection. We are convinced that we are providing important impulses in the interest of sustainability.
Thank you very much for the interview.
On 20 September 2019, the C.C. Group celebrated its 50th anniversary in a place steeped in history: the rooftop of a former coal preparation plant at the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex. Today, this historical coal-mining site is a World Heritage Site and popular event location.
Among the guests were customers, employees and shareholders of the C.C. Group as well as scientific partners. Economic and technical historian, Stephan Mlodoch, gave a lecture on how “simple” waste disposal evolved into today’s circular economy. Martin Faulstich, Professor of Environmental and Energy Technology at Clausthal University of Technology, Director of the Institute for the Future of Industrial Society (INZIN) and political consultant, followed with a talk on why slag from thermal waste treatment plants will be a coveted raw material in future.
The event then took a lighter turn with the performance of cabaret artist and theatre-maker Bruno “Günna” Knust. The former stadium announcer for German football club, Borussia Dortmund, explained the local “Ruhrpott” region in his very own way, which was certainly less scientific but therefore highly amusing. Guests were also given guided tours of the coal mine industrial complex, including its well-known Design Museum. The Duo Aphrodite provided the musical accompaniment for the evening, with Gilda Razani on saxophone and Hans Wanning on piano.
The management of the C.C. Group would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex and all their guests and speakers for helping to make this celebration such a special day. Here’s to another 50 successful years with our partners! Or, to use the traditional good luck wish of German miners: Glückauf!
On 20 September 2019, the C.C. Group will celebrate its 50th anniversary at the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen. Here, Co-Managing Director Dieter Kersting talks about personal milestones, investment firm and new owner Novum Capital, and ambitious plans for the future.
Mr. Kersting, the C.C. Group will celebrate its 50th anniversary on 20 September. What do you have planned for the big occasion?
Dieter Kersting: From 10:30 a.m., we will be hosting an informative and entertaining event, followed by an evening of culinary excellence, as befits a 50th anniversary celebration. As well as celebrating our company’s anniversary, we also want to acknowledge our corporate DNA, which is shaped by being a medium-sized company and characterized by competence, reliability and trust. This day will be the highlight of the year.
How many guests are you expecting?
We are expecting around 150 guests from all over Germany – longstanding and new customers, partners from politics, business, and science and, of course, our entire workforce.
You yourself have been with the C.C. Group for 30 years now. Is there anyone who has been with the company longer than that?
(Pauses to think, then laughs): Nope, I guess I am the dinosaur here!
Back in 1989, would you have thought that you would still be here 30 years later?
No! I was only 30 years old at the time. At that age, you still assume that your career will pass through various stages.
What are your reasons for staying with the C.C. Group for so long?
I immediately liked the environment of a medium-sized company and felt I was able to develop within the firm. I joined C.C. as a lawyer, but quickly became a sales representative. In this role, I was able to implement many projects that advanced the company and for which I received appreciation. From a career-perspective, this is very fulfilling.
What projects are you thinking of, specifically?
One contract imprinted on my mind is the very first contract I signed – with high-end appliance manufacturer Miele. A great company, back then and still now. Miele was already using a recyclable, cast-iron bearing cross as the “backbone” of its premium washing machines. We collected their foundry sand and disposed of it – and on the way back to the Miele foundry in Gütersloh, we picked up scrap metal from our Krefeld site, which Miele then melted down for its bearing crosses.
Circular economy at its best!
Absolutely. Although, at the time, this term wasn’t as commonly used as it is now. By the way, we still have the contract with Miele. It is one of the reasons the C.C. Group has such an exceptionally good reputation in the foundry industry.
Which other milestones have you helped the company reach?
I signed my first contract for the disposal of waste incineration slag in 1990 with the waste incineration plant in Bamberg. It was not at all difficult to persuade the waste incinerators to sign, because the C.C. Group has multimodal transport connections in Krefeld. Using ships in logistics has always had great advantages. Of course, I also remember the filter dust disposal contract we signed with the largest German coal mining corporation, Ruhrkohle AG, in 1992. This customer relationship was one of the reasons why the C.C. Group acquired stakes in the Bleicherode and Sollstedt stowing mines in Thuringia. These investments are also a great competitive advantage for us.
Let’s take a look at the more recent past: At the beginning of 2018, Frankfurt-based investment firm Novum Capital acquired the C.C. Group. How is your relationship with this new shareholder?
Very good, because our relationship is characterized by mutual appreciation. We are lucky to have been acquired by Novum Capital, as this is a shareholder that is willing to make big investments in the C.C. Group. This is important, because, being part of the waste management industry, we have to meet more and more legal requirements, which costs a lot of money.
So, without Novum Capital, you would be worse off financially?
Of course. In the past, we were organized as company-affiliated foundations, making us less financially strong. Now, with Novum Capital, we have already been able to modernize our Hagen site, for example by installing a dual-pass separator. And just a few weeks ago, in July, we took into operation our multimillion investment, “Stratego”. With this highly intelligent metal finishing equipment, we are now a technology leader in the field of slag recycling. And our journey continues!
That is a secret for now! All I will say is this: we are working on new partnerships and things are looking good. We are also looking at possible new locations. And we are planning technological innovations to process mineral waste materials in such a way that they become very attractive as alternative construction materials in civil engineering.
50 years after its foundation, how important is the C.C. Group for the region?
For decades, our largest customers have been municipal waste incinerators. For this reason alone, our company is important for the region. As a brand, C.C. has a very positive image, so we have a good relationship with the local administration, too. For example, at our Hagen site, we have a joint venture with a municipality. Furthermore, our transshipment hub is very relevant for the ports in Krefeld and Würzburg.
Today, recycling is more important than ever. So, surely, another 50 years are on the cards?
Not for me! (Laughs) But all joking aside: Naturally, the current developments towards more climate protection and resource conservation speak for our business model, especially as waste incineration is now climate-neutral and municipal waste bins will continue to contain a lot of recyclables for a long time to come. I am convinced that we can approach the next 50 years with our heads held high.
Thank you for your time.
On 19 July, the C.C. Group took into operation its new metal finishing machinery, “Stratego”, at the company’s site in Krefeld. Here, Co-Managing Director Dieter Kersting tells us about the strategy behind it, political recognition and customer benefits.
Mr. Kersting, when you officially took “Stratego” into operation, there were customers, shareholders and even scientists present. What makes this machine so interesting?
Dieter Kersting: It is the result of a forward-thinking decision made by the C.C. Group: Stratego enables us to extract non-ferrous metals from incineration slag by type – for the first time in our 50-year history. Stratego separates the so-called light NF metals in the slag –
mainly aluminum – from the heavy NF metals, which are mostly copper, gold, silver, platinum and palladium. This new industrial machine also cleans the metals.
How did you proceed up until now, without Stratego?
Until now, we recovered the different NF metals as one big mixture. Other companies then sorted them by type and sold them on to metal smelters. Now, with Stratego, we can sell the extracted metals to the smelters themselves. From a strategic and economic point of view, this is a highly advantageous expansion of our business model.
What gave you the idea? After all, the C.C. Group had been successful for 50 years even without Stratego.
There is a saying: “To stand still is to fall behind.” This applies to us, too. We must progress in order to remain successful – which is why we are investing so heavily in our sites and equipment.
How much have you invested in Stratego?
Quite a high, seven-figure sum. About one third of this came from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, BMBF. We feel very honored that the BMBF decided to fund our quantum leap in the recovery of raw materials from incineration slags. This shows great appreciation for the work of the C.C. Group.
The machine now sits in a hall more than 2,000 square meters in size. How did you get it there? Did you buy it, then have it delivered and assembled?
If it were that easy, all our competitors would have one! The opposite is the case: Stratego is an in-house development. The great thinkers behind it are my Co-Managing Director, Roberto Grau, and Dr. Georg Rottländer, our Head of Sales and authorized signatory of C.C. Umwelt GmbH. They were assisted by environmental engineers Hamburg-Umwelt-Recyclingtechnologien (H-U-R) GmbH, and the Institute of Environmental Technology and Energy Economics at Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH).
What benefits does Stratego offer your customers?
Take the waste incineration plants, for example, who task us with the disposal of their slag and filter dust. They can write in their sustainability reports that they work with a partner – the C.C. Group – that has once again managed to increase its contribution to protecting the environment by reducing CO2 emissions. With Stratego, we are able to meet the ever-increasing requirements for waste incineration plants far better than any of our competitors. And the customers to whom we sell the non-ferrous metals recover from the slag can trust that they have been optimally processed. In short, thanks to Stratego we see ourselves as a technology leader in slag processing and we are making a significant contribution to resource conservation and environmental protection.
How many hours a day does the machine operate?
It is run by two shifts, though it operates almost by itself. We have three specialized employees who operate the machine and sort the metals.
Where would you place Stratego in the 50-year history of the C.C. Group?
We will be celebrating this fabulous anniversary on 20 September 2019 at the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen. This is going to be a bigger event than even the grand unveiling of Stratego! We are expecting around 150 guests; new and long-standing customers, representatives from trade associations and politicians. The celebrations will begin in the morning with a lecture event, followed by a cabaret show and a visit to the colliery museums, and crowned by an elaborate evening event. And Stratego will be like the cherry on top of a multi-tiered cake!
Thank you for your time.
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