Directly next to the soccer stadium in Ingolstadt, where the FC Ingolstadt soccer team holds its games on the weekend, a black Audi Q5 drives across dusty ground. Only seconds after a caterpillar has just evened the rough ground. Large chunks of earth fly up against the window, brown mud spatters on the clean paint. Andrea Robien, responsible for soil protection in Audi’s Environment Department, sits behind the steering wheel. She takes a smooth right turn, rolls down the window and uses both hands to point to the 75-hectare landscape, which would be big enough to accommodate 200 soccer fields.
How Audi turns an old refinery site into a modern innovation park
The dirty car drives through the car wash, our favorite hoodie is hand washed in the bathtub or machine-washed on gentle cycle, our contact lenses are soaked in a sterile solution in the evening. But how do you actually clean dirty soil or contaminated groundwater? Of all things, Audi is converting the site of a former refinery into an innovation park and showing how a clean, new beginning can be accomplished. Audi blog author Liza Kellner was on-site to get an impression of the progress made on the IN-Campus.
As an expert in her field, she is accompanying one of the most complex and expensive cleaning-up projects in Germany: the IN-Campus on the outskirts of Ingolstadt. “In terms of environmental protection and sustainability, it is an absolute flagship project.”
For 43 years, this site supplied the entire state of Bavaria with petroleum products on a daily basis. At a railroad intersection and located between the state’s then largest energy suppliers, Munich and Nuremberg, Ingolstadt very quickly developed from a purely agricultural town into an industrial hub from 1959 onwards. However, this has left its mark. Concealed deep down under the tires of the Audi Q5, some of the most harmful residues of the refinery plant are to be found in the soil. IN-Campus GmbH is now cleaning 600 million kilograms of this soil in a joint venture between the city of Ingolstadt and Audi.
All new for the people, the city and the environment
And it is precisely here that, together with the city of Ingolstadt, Audi is building a modern technology campus. In the first building phase, a special building for forward-looking technologies, a new vehicle safety center, a new computer center and an energy center will be set up. A real renaissance for the old refinery site. “This is a highlight for any environmentalist and a commitment to the site”, says Robien. From the processing of crude oil to a center of excellence, from the past directly into the future. What petroleum was back then ‒ a guarantee for energy supply, today ‒ nearly 60 years later ‒ are innovative ideas for the automobile future, thus securing the future of the region.
This fresh start is not a matter of course. Contaminated areas are often “sealed” to enclose toxic substances in the soil. Vast areas with good transport connections then lie fallow and unused in their contaminated state. Neither the environment, the people nor the city can benefit from them. Time and labor is needed to clean such areas. “Thoroughness takes precedence over speed in this case”, Robien remarks. The pollutants in the soil differ enormously. In the last few years, there have been 1,200 exploratory drillings up to a depth of 15 meters and more than 50,000 lab analyses of the different pollutants have been taken. Andrea Robien and her colleagues had to find a suitable cleaning-up method, depending on which group of physical or chemical contaminants they belonged to.
Using high-tech for environmental protection
And then, out of the blue, there is suddenly a washing machine. Except that this one cleans 1,200 tons of soil from contaminants every day. The contaminated soil is brought to the surface with 33,000 steel honeycombs and washed in a so-called soil washing plant, which is like in a gigantic washing drum. Components of the soil, such as stones and fine sand, are cleaned in several steps with wash water until all the pollutants have been dissolved and are in the water. This is cleaned in a number of different steps and then fed back into the closed “washing machine” circuit. More than 90 percent of the soil is thus restored to its original state and can be backfilled into the pit. Less than 10 percent is properly disposed of as waste. “We try to find the best possible solutions for nature”, Robien emphasizes.
Using the so-called air sparging method, volatile contaminants are removed. This avoids having to dig up the earth and clean it in the washing plant. Instead, straws are used. They are, of course, bigger than the ones we use for our drinks, but follow the same principle: if you blow air through a straw into your lemonade, carbon dioxide escapes and it bubbles. By using a straw, volatile contaminants in the groundwater disappear in the same way as carbon dioxide does in a drink. One cubic meter of contaminated soil vapor per second can be cleaned using this method – 10,000 people would have to blow into a straw simultaneously to achieve the same effect.
Apart from the soil itself, the groundwater in the area is also contaminated. To make sure it does not contaminate the adjacent areas, it is collected by ten wells along a 4.5 km-long network of pipelines and cleaned in a treatment plant. This way, 210 cubic meters per hour of groundwater are treated. The water is tested in different places to see whether it is really clean. Only after these spot checks have confirmed this, is it allowed to seep back into the ground.
And then there are those quiet and peaceful moments on the terrain when you can already see that something new and good is beginning to happen. When the Audi Q5 was driving through the northern part of the site, a duck poked its head out of the crystal-clear pond at the edge of the forest. Andrea Robien smiles. “It is important for us to know that we are giving something back to nature.” Audi is leaving 15 hectares of the IN Campus site entirely to nature. Andrea Robien and her colleagues have laid the invisible foundation for future steps and making innovation possible through their contribution to sustainability. Their work will already have been completed when the architects bring their visions to life on the IN Campus later on. She steers the Audi Q5 past the stadium and drives towards the washing facility.
IN-Campus GmbH: Audi and the city of Ingolstadt remediate refinery site for technology park
Remediation of the IN-Campus site is well underway: Specialized teams are working on behalf of IN-Campus GmbH, a joint venture between AUDI AG and the city of Ingolstadt, to pave the way for a new, state-of-the-art business and industrial park by the end of 2022. Together they are recycling and remediating an abandoned 75-hectare industrial site in the east of Ingolstadt. It is one of the largest remediation projects currently underway in Germany.Read more
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