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From trash to treasure

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World Cement,

Ian Jones, WKE, explains that although the cement industry may be ahead of others when it comes to embracing alternative fuels, the goalposts are starting to shift as waste becomes a more expensive commodity.

Those in the waste-derived fuel industry have always faced a dilemma: how to persuade a cement producer to pay for alternative fuels, including solid improved recovered fuel (SIRF) pellets, when they get paid a gate fee for accepting loose solid recovered fuel (SRF) and refuse-derived fuel (RDF)?

Waste-derived fuel has played a key role in the cement industry for many years, with waste companies paying cement producers to take loose SRF and RDF. It is a system that has worked well for all parties concerned: the waste industry circumnavigates high landfill taxes and complies with climate change initiatives, and the cement industry gets paid to take loose SRF and RDF for use as fuel that would otherwise be diverted to landfill at a greater cost to the environment.

But as multiple sectors become more efficient at dealing with waste and finding new ways to use it, that dependable and economically beneficial relationship is going to change. In the future the industry may see gate fees diminish and landfill taxes drop or disappear meaning that loose SRF and RDF will no longer provide the ideal symbiotic solution.

While the cement industry is less reliant on traditional fossil fuels than many other industries (current estimates suggest that between 30% and 40% of fuel used in cement production is waste-derived in the UK and Europe), the current system is not sustainable in the long term.

It is also the case that greenhouse gases are not coming down fast enough to keep up with government initiatives. This is in part because loose shredded waste is inferior in quality and not particularly efficient or consistent. It might have a lower carbon footprint than coal on a tonne-by-tonne basis, but because of its high-moisture content, the production process requires more of it – and so any carbon emission advances are diminished.

So, what is the answer?

Boosting consistency and productivity

New fuel solutions are starting to emerge and there is much innovation in the field. One such advance is the development of solid improved recovered fuel (SIRF) pellets – renewable energy pellets comprising non-recyclable waste.

Made with materials such as wood, paper, card and non-chlorinated plastics that are destined for landfill, SIRF pellets perform twice as well regarding CO2 emissions than natural gas, and three and a half times better than coal, according to an independent survey recently carried out by management consultant and waste specialist Monksleigh (commissioned by WKE).

One of the main benefits of SIRF pellets is that they are more efficient and consistent in terms of energy and moisture. The content and quality of regular shredded waste can vary, as can its moisture levels and energy output, which can have a significant impact on cement production. Another advantage of using SIRF pellets is that they can be combined with other fuels – including coking coal, pet coke and industrial coal – meaning they can be adopted as part of a business’s overall carbon-reduction journey.

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