Why the 2020’s is the decade for secondary fuels in cement production

Growth in residual waste volumes and stricter EU regulation will make waste fuels such as SRF the preferred source of energy for cement production, argues cement industry expert at Geminor, Per Cederberg.

CEWEP, the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy plants, has calculated that 142 million tonnes of residual waste treatment capacity will be needed in Europe by 2035. The current Waste-to-Energy capacity is 90 million tonnes, and the capacity for co-incineration is around 11 million tonnes. Within 15 years we will have an annual amount of 40 million tonnes of non-recyclable waste which needs treatment in a Europe that is gradually stricter on landfill.

Being an obvious challenge, there are also opportunities opening in the recently released prospect. A stop in the export of waste to Asia, combined with an increase in total waste volumes, means increased potential for the steady supply of residual waste fuels such as solid recovered fuel (SRF). If the predictions are correct, the market mechanism and increasing gatefees will also be in favour of most off-takers in Europe in the years to come.

Quantity demands quality

Both developed and developing markets are experiencing an increase in demand for quality secondary fuels. Gradually, more cement producers are adapting to a mix of waste fuels, being a more sustainable and potentially profitable solution compared to coal and petcoke. The challenges for the industry have always been, and still is, the cost and complexity of adapting their kilns to function with more than a 30 percent substitutionrate of SRF. Because the ashes from the fuel is part of the final cement product, the extremely high demands for the right quality from the waste fuels is also a challenge. Elements such as particle size, contents of metals and plastic, high calorific value and low chlorine value are essential, as is the level of humidity in the treated waste. The higher the substitutionrate is, the higher the quality of fuel needs to be. Combined, these and other prerequisites have at times made a steady supply of SRF both challenging, demanding and expensive for the industry.

A better market

For the cement producing players taking part in or considering a more sustainable operation, the waste market is moving in the right direction. Waste treatment is fast becoming more advanced, also assisted by new EU regulation. The new requirements of waste treatment and material recycling in Germany is resulting in better sorting and higher quality SRF, which in turn is easier to adapt into fuel fractions for the cement industry. Resource managing companies such as Geminor, operating in many different countries, are increasing the effort in finding, adapting, treating and exporting waste fuels in the right quality to offtakers all over Europe. Better routines and regulations are helping to establish a steady and trustworthy supply of fuels throughout the year.

This increasing internationalization is also creating new waste fuel markets outside the EU, making SRF a growing export commodity. A growing demand for waste fuels is also forcing the development of more efficient and innovative supply chain management. These elements are all good incentives for the cement industry to increase the use of secondary fuels in production.

Presently, approximately 8 percent of the worlds Co2 output comes from the cement industry – making it one of the most polluting industries on the planet. This may change as the ambition of having a more sustainable cement production is accompanied by an economic incentive. Germany is leading the way with a substitutionrate of close to 65 percent in the cement industry. In the decade coming, more will follow suit as technical development, better resource management and stricter regulation brings the waste market into a new era.