Where next for Europe's Energy from Waste?

Written by: Oliver Caunce | Published:
Oliver Caunce, senior account and business development manager at Geminor

With calorific value, technology efficiency and output volume now considered imperative to the profitability of energy from waste (EfW), European demand for more refined feedstock continues to increase.

As landfill taxes have risen, and with the impending Landfill Directive targets looming ever nearer, the market for EfW has seen significant growth.

In fact, according to the latest insight from Defra, more than 39% of UK residual waste is now recovered – an increase of 17% compared to 2012.

However, as the market matures, the popularity of mass burn recovery facilities that require a lower-grade waste fuel (between 8 and 12MJ/kg calorific value) is seemingly decreasing.

Supply chains are established and capacity is overflowing. Instead, growth from the sector is forecast from the more intensively processed fuel types – solid recovered fuel (SRF) being the most prevalent.

The rise of refined fuel

Compared with more traditional EfW feedstock, such as refuse derived fuel (RDF), SRF undergoes more rigorous processing to ensure a higher resulting fuel grade.

Using bespoke MRF equipment, residual waste is taken through a number of processing methodologies/stations to remove impurities, reduce low-calorific-value material and eliminate organics.

For example, soils and fines are removed via a trommel, ferrous metals are separated through high-strength magnets and shredders reduce fuel particle size to between 150 and 300mm. Unlike unprocessed RDF, SRF is produced to homogenous fuel characteristics.

With fewer organics, less inert material, less heavy fraction and a lower moisture content, this attention to detail means that SRF feedstock is suitable not only for mass burn grate boilers, but also mid-spectrum recovery technologies, including circulating fluidised beds.

As fuel quality improves and particle size decreases, more advanced recovery technologies can run at higher temperatures and hold fuel in the burning zone for less time.

More heat drives a greater power output which, in essence, leads to improved efficiencies, a higher volume of energy generated and increased profitability.

The specification of refined SRF also means that tighter particle tolerances of chlorine, sulphur, ash and ferrous content are closely monitored. Therefore the fuel can be safely used in wider applications – such as regulated kilns with a calorific value of 22-24MJ/kg.

The cement and lime production industries, for example, are becoming primary off-takers of high-grade fuels.

With environmental credentials a focus on the global stage, many companies are substituting fossil fuels with SRF. Substitution rates in Germany are roughly 50%, with many other European countries looking to follow suit.

As global targets for thermal substitution rates increase, we predict SRF will be used in a broader range of industries.

Market trends for 2018 and beyond

For the energy recovery industry, SRF presents a considerable opportunity to drive efficiencies and raise output volumes. Alongside recovery benefits, adherence to strict EU environmental standards means safer transportation and storage – resulting in less paperwork and more flexibility for operators.

In 2018, we believe it is likely that demand for SRF will continue to rise. Popularity from EfW facilities is rising and, as R&D from both processing equipment manufacturers and boiler developers makes producing and recovering higher-quality fuels easier and more cost-effective than ever before, this shows no sign of stopping.

As a leading player in the European secondary fuels market, we are experiencing this trend first-hand. In fact, we now manage the movement of greater volumes of SRF and refined RDF than ever before – both in the UK and across Europe – and are perfectly placed to support further growth in the future.

Waste processers are harnessing the opportunity and investing in technology to improve the refinement of their fuel feedstock, while the latest EfW facilities are beginning to embrace more state-of-the art recovery technologies to drive greater return in the long term. The market is quickly changing to take advantage of progress.

2018 will undoubtedly be a pivotal year for both secondary fuel suppliers and EfW operators. Innovation is driving impressive progress, and we are excited to continue playing an instrumental role.

Oliver Caunce is a senior account and business manager at Geminor


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