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Blog: RDF production – quality matters

Date: 25/11/2013 | Author: Chris Oldfield

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Quality is not typically regarded as a priority when it comes to RDF production. However, manufacturers could increase their margins by thinking a bit smarter, stresses UNTHA UK’s managing director Chris Oldfield.

The debate surrounding RDF export seemed to come to the fore in September, following a panel debate at RWM. Professionals from throughout the waste to energy industry agreed on many points, but when it came to the need to improve RDF quality standards, opinions differed greatly.

If it was Solid Recovered Fuel being discussed instead, it would be unlikely that anyone would have disputed that SRF is a refined resource, manufactured to a defined specification.  In this instance, quality matters. RDF, on the other hand, is a comparatively crude material – it is not produced to such strict criteria because end users don’t have the same quality requirements.

What many RDF exporters have failed to realise though, is that by adopting a slightly more methodical approach to the manufacturing of this fuel, they can in fact achieve an additional revenue stream and improve their production margins.

It all boils down to the fact that there is wealth in waste. So why ship valuable materials abroad for other nations to recover and benefit from?

Keen to address this missed opportunity, we have therefore introduced a new Alternative Fuel Production (AFP) system, which contains all of the technologies needed to process MSW into a high quality RDF.

Input material is firstly shredded to a homogenous particle size of anything between 80-400mm, depending on client requirements, in a single pass. The configurable cutting system can produce a guaranteed particle size in three dimensions rather than just two, which modern WtE plants will increasingly demand.

Separation equipment then allows recyclates to be extracted and sold, generating an additional revenue stream. A trommel, eddy current separator and/or baler can also be fitted, depending on customer requirements.

This system has already proven popular on the continent, in countries comparatively more advanced in their utilisation of WtE technologies. Its flexibility sees it being utilised for different applications too. For example in Finland, one client utilises this technology to shred down to 80mm for gasification.

Of course the whole premise of this system is to save RDF producers money - something which an investment in new technology may appear to contradict. However, it has been engineered with return on investment in mind and is available through a finance package for those wishing to avoid the upfront capital outlay. The cost varies according to the customer’s specification, but a recent quote based on a 60 month finance package, and considering processing and wear costs, power consumption and an estimation of labour, calculated that the system could operate at a cost of only £3.75 per tonne (based on a two shift operation producing 120,000 tonnes per annum). 

It must be noted that a more comprehensive approach to materials recovery during RDF production, also has further benefits that are not purely fiscal, which adds further weight to this quality argument.

While the same quality standards do not exist for RDF, as they do for SRF, TransFrontier Shipment (TFS) regulations prohibit the export of ‘untreated’ MSW. In truth though, many exports will have been very close to just that, and non-compliance is something no RDF manufacturer can afford.

Put simply, some materials are being shipped overseas that it would be better to recover. So while a number of UK organisations have recognised the opportunities associated with RDF export, it is important that every opportunity is maximised in the RDF production plant, before the fuel leaves for the docks. 

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