Waste repurposing facilities are a new, and vital, step in shifting the country towards a more sustainable energy future. A new waste-to-fuel facility which recently opened in Sydney is offering industrial clients an alternative energy source, taking advantage of the opportunities provided by customers looking to reduce their use of fossil fuels.
Having opened in July this year, the new multi-million dollar resource recovery plant at Wetherill Park recovers waste such as metal, clean timber and inert materials, and converts all other waste into process engineered fuel (PEF).
The state-of-the-art facility was developed by ResourceCo in a joint ownership venture with waste management company Cleanaway, which has the customer base and waste supply to drive the facility and recover waste from landfill.
According to the National Waste Report, Australia amassed 64 million tonnes of waste over its most recently recorded two year period.
With the Wetherill Park plant licensed to receive up to 250,000 tonnes of dry commercial, industrial and demolition waste per annum, it is expected to make a significant dent on the amount of waste going to landfill, as well as one sector’s reliance on fossil fuels such as coal and gas.
ResourceCo’s Chief Executive Officer Sustainable Energy, Ben Sawley, said that the facility will replace over 100,000 tonnes of coal usage per year.
“This will take the equivalent of 20,000 cars annually off the road in terms of greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr Sawley said.
“We’re committed to playing a key role in Australia’s future sustainable energy mix by reducing waste and lowering carbon emissions through production of a commercially viable sustainable energy product.”
Applications of PEF
According to Mr Sawley, PEF currently has one key application – cement kilns.
PEF is made from non-recyclable waste materials, such as plastics, dirty paper, cardboard and non-recyclable treated timber, and paired with embodied energy content. The fuel that results is perfect for cement kilns, where it is combusted within the kiln to provide the energy required to make cement.
“With a calorific value of approximately 70 per cent of coal, it is quite efficient,” Mr Sawley said.
PEF is currently used as a substitute for fossil fuels in both domestic and international markets in the production of cement. The Wetherill Park facility is predominantly supplying one of Australia’s largest construction material companies, Boral, with PEF for its Berrima cement kiln. In this case, PEF is being used as a substitute for coal.
Any remaining fuel is exported to ResourceCo’s Asian business.
The process of repurposing waste
Waste goes through a complex process to be converted to usable fuel. According to Mr Sawley, this process starts when waste trucks enter the enclosed facility through a rapid roller door and tip their waste into the receiving area.
“An inspection officer then checks the waste to ensure that no inappropriate materials are present, for example, wet wastes, liquids, organic materials, or hazardous medical waste,” Mr Sawley said.
“A material handler pre-sorts the waste to again remove anything inappropriate, and then premixes the appropriate waste to ensure a consistent blend of materials are entering the production process.
“A front end loader picks up the premixed waste and places it into the primary M&J 6000 shredder, which sizes all materials down to a 300mm piece or smaller.”
Following this process, the waste progresses through a series of magnets to remove metal. It then goes through waste screens to remove fine inert particles, air separators to remove large inert materials, and manual quality control stations to remove remaining non-combustible materials.
“By the end of these processes, there exists only combustible materials for a final shredding process to achieve a final sized particle of less than 50mm. The product is then finished PEF,” Mr Sawley said.
“The PEF is then either loaded into large walking floor trailers for delivery to a local cement kiln, or baled and wrapped for our export customers.”
With no thermal or chemical processes involved, the process is not energy intensive, with the most power consumption coming from shredding waste materials to the required size.
The bigger picture
While the Wetherill Park facility is revolutionary in terms of its capacity, it is not the first facility of its kind. ResourceCo has a suite of 22 plants across Australia and South East Asia, having innovated within the resource recovery sector for 25 years.
Another of ResourceCo’s large-scale PEF plants is based in Adelaide, supplying Adelaide Brighton Cement with PEF using dry commercial, industrial, construction and demolition waste streams.
“The opportunity to tap further into this market is huge and it makes good sense, both environmentally and economically,” Mr Sawley said of the Wetherill Park facility.
“We intend to build more PEF plants wherever there is a market need for it.”
Mr Sawley said that at this stage, ResourceCo does not see a large-scale, commercially-viable alternative to PEF manufacture for the waste streams it deals with and will continue to produce PEF for use in the cement industry.
“PEF is a very well proven, environmentally and commercially-viable alternative for these waste streams, which are currently going to landfill,” Mr Sawley said.
Cleanaway, which has a network of more than 250 waste processing locations around Australia, has also stated that it is committed to making a sustainable future a reality. With all of this waste viewed as a potential resource, the possibility of processing and transforming waste into valuable commodities, such as PEF, is becoming more of a reality across every sector, industry and community.