The RDF quality argument – UNTHA UK opinion sought for industry journal
UNTHA UK’s managing director Chris Oldfield spoke to Waste Management World last month, to share his views regarding the merit of a quality standard for RDF. The much debated topic was then showcased in this industry-leading international magazine, and Chris’s opinions were featured.
Now you can read Chris’s thoughts in full…
Whilst SRF has for some time been manufactured to a defined quality specification, RDF is a much cruder fuel in comparison. This is not because we don’t have the technology or know-how to produce a more refined substance. On the contrary, innovative processing equipment exists to enable us to achieve a homogenous and highly segregated material. However, RDF customers have not dictated a strict specification like SRF users have, because they are happy with the quality of fuel being supplied.
It’s not surprising really. After all, there is wealth in waste. So, at present, RDF importers seek volume and the ability to charge higher gate fees. They are also undoubtedly happy with the level of valuable revenue-generating recyclates such as metals and plastics, being shipped with the fuel. However it could be argued that this commercially-driven interest is perhaps to the detriment of environmental gain.
As the EU strives to achieve its resource efficiency goals, we should all be working harder to recover more recyclates during the RDF production process. A smarter, more methodical and quality-driven approach to manufacturing, would prolong the useful life of these materials, ensure we take better domestic responsibility for the ‘waste’ we produce and increase producers’ profit margins.
A quality specification would also give greater peace of mind regarding RDF utilisation. We would not put petrol in our cars unless we knew it met a minimum standard, and the same principles apply here. What’s more, a quality grading would go some way to improving public perceptions surrounding alternate fuels, certainly in countries such as the UK where EfW is less embraced. For as long as there is no standard, RDF will still be considered a waste – rather than the valuable resource that it is – and misguided opposition to ‘dirty RDF plants’ is likely to continue.
When assessing the merit of a quality standard, it is important to consider the apparent growth of the RDF market too. UK export levels alone reportedly rose from just under 900,000 tonnes in 2012, to 1.5 million tonnes in 2013. More and more countries will undoubtedly develop their RDF production capabilities in acknowledgement of this high level of trade, however, if a quality standard is not in place, how will the market protect itself from more spurious imports? A minimum quality grade at the very least, would act as a barrier to market entry for less scrupulous manufacturers who perhaps just want to make a ‘quick buck’.
The ‘walk before we can run’ phrase is potentially relevant here. To introduce a complex grading system overnight may cause too much market disruption. However a minimum standard would drive some initial improvements and the subsequent phased implementation of a quality framework could help to achieve even more of the above benefits. It’s great that the Government is consulting industry professionals to define what a realistic and value-adding specification would be, in terms of criteria such as particle size, calorific value and metallurgical content.
Admittedly, policing this will not be easy, especially when organisations such as the Environment Agency face continued cut-backs. However, perhaps TFS regulations could be adapted to help monitor quality. Plus, if Governments better acknowledged the long-term economic and renewable energy benefits of EfW, maybe more resource would be allocated to safeguarding this area of industry.