A new destination for waste

Published 10 August 2020

To support its drive to become part of a circular economy, Votorantim Cimentos has created Verdera, a nationwide provider of waste management services. The company enables the cement producer to reduce industrial and urban waste for landfilling through co-processing in Votorantim’s cement kilns. By Eduardo Porciuncula, Verdera (Votorantim Cimentos), Brazil.

In the beginning, only used tyres were co-processed. Research has advanced and

new materials have been incorporated, such as different types of biomass and industrial waste

The linear production model – extract raw materials, produce goods and dispose of the leftovers – dates back to the Industrial Revolution more than 250 years ago. It is one of the great waste generators throughout the product value chain and leads to a scarcity or depletion of natural resources and emissions due to the wastage of materials that are disposed.

As the Earth is a system with finite resources, it is paramount that production methods adhere to the principles of a circular rather than a linear economy. A circular economy promotes a model of economic development in harmony with the planet.

Instead of “extracting, transforming and disposing”, companies and consumers need to increasingly embrace the concept of “reduce, reuse and recycle” .

The Brazil Law 12.305, which provides for the National Solid Waste Policy, goes even further by detailing, in Article 9, the priorities for waste management. They start at “non-generation”, go through “reduction, reuse, recycling and treatment of solid waste”, and end at “final environmentally appropriate waste disposal”.

Co-processing – the solution for proper and safe disposal 

Industrial waste
Industrial waste is among the types of waste that produce the greatest impact. Its disposal hierarchy includes co-processing as an appropriate treatment, right after recycling. That is, if waste cannot be recycled, it should be transformed into energy. For almost three decades, Votorantim Cimentos has been a pioneer in the use of co-processing technology in Brazil.

The first tests took place in 1991, in a plant in the state of Paraná, southern Brazil. Currently, 14 of the company’s units in the country co-process waste, replacing part of the petcoke used in cement kilns with alternative fuels. At first, only waste tyres were co-processed. As a result, these tyres no longer served as a breeding ground for mosquitoes or took up space in landfills but have become useful energy providers.

Research has advanced and new materials have been incorporated, such as different types of biomass, including rice husks, wood chips, babassu coconut, sawdust and açaí pits.

Votorantim also co-processes industrial waste, such as plastics, paper, textile materials with oil residues, liquids and sludge resulting from tank cleaning or different industrial treatments.

Urban waste
Urban waste is a global challenge. Brazil produces more than 78Mta of urban waste, according to estimates by the Brazilian Association of Public Cleaning and Special Waste Companies (ABRELPE). Approximately 41 per cent of the refuse collected in the country is disposed of improperly. Refuse-derived fuel (RDF) co-processing is a viable alternative to reduce the impact of urban waste, decrease the volume deposited in landfills and transform part of this waste into energy for cement production.

In 2019 Votorantim Cimentos started an unprecedented programme in the Brazilian cement industry to co-process part of the urban waste collected in the cities of Piracicaba and Sorocaba, in the interior of the state of São Paulo. The Rio Branco do Sul plant in Paraná also undertakes RDF co-processing and Votorantim Cimentos has licences for the Sobradinho unit in the Distrito Federal, and the Edealina and Goiânia units in Goiás. As a result, 75,000t of RDF were used in the production process of Votorantim’s Brazilian units, representing a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 14,800t.

Moreover, these licences show that alternative technologies to landfills are becoming better known in Brazil.

Votorantim’s kilns co-process the RDF, using the thermal energy from the waste

Continued investment

In recent years Votorantim has invested BRL300m (US$54.87m) in co-processing and the company plans to invest an additional BRL370m over the next five years in its Brazilian units. This technology combines economic and socio-environmental gains.

More recently, the company has expanded social benefits by purchasing açaí pits and babassu coconut from local families, thereby increasing the income of communities making a living on harvesting in the states of Pará and Ceará.

In 2019 Votorantim Cimentos achieved an alternative fuels thermal substitution rate of 22 per cent globally and 32 per cent in Brazil. In Europe, Asia and Africa, in just three years, the co-processing rate has climbed from zero to 18 per cent of total fuels used in Votorantim’s cement kilns.

Verdera, evolving Votorantim’s sustainable practices

Founded in 1933, Votorantim Cimentos is a global building materials, mining and solutions company and is present in 11 countries across four continents: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, USA, Canada, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia. At the end of 2019, it operated 256 industrial units, with a cement capacity of 52.8Mta, making it the largest cement producer in Brazil by capacity and the sixth-largest in the world (excluding China), according to public reports. In 2019 Votorantim’s cement operations produced 30.1Mt of cement and generated a net revenue of BRL13bn.

The company aims to be even more competitive in the production of cement and concrete as well as so-called ‘related’ businesses. As part of a transformational journey through several areas, Votorantim Cimentos has sought opportunities that are complementary to its main activity, cement production, and strengthened its business units in Brazil to operate in the co-processing and waste management value chains. Therefore, as another step in the development of its sustainable practices, Votorantim Cimentos launched Verdera in September 2019, the new brand of its co-processing business unit.

Verdera operates nationwide and marks the company’s entry into the market as providers of waste management services. It acts as partners, helping its customers to manage their waste in a proper and sustainable manner. The name Verdera refers to looking at waste management in a different way (in Portuguese, “ver” means “to see”), assigning new purposes to these materials. It also refers to building a new, “greener” era, by thinking about sustainability and future generations. Verdera provides a service that helps society – presenting a great example of how industry can be a solution for the complete elimination of urban and industrial waste. Only a few economic sectors, like the cement industry, are able to provide a solution on this scale, with national reach and operational stability.

In São Paulo, Paraná and Santa Catarina, the new company offers disposal services for a wide range of waste, including those that need to be crushed or homogenised at the preparation unit in Rio Branco do Sul, Paraná. In other states, Verdera primarily uses waste that can be directly co-processed, without the need for any type of preparation. In 2019 the work of Verdera prevented 806,300t of waste from being landfilled or incinerated.

Verdera offers disposal services for a wide range of wastes and as a result,

has prevented 806,300t of waste from being landfilled or incinerated

Finding the value in waste

Votorantim’s experience in research, implementation, expansion and improvements in co-processing technology has naturally led it to create a new business to operate in the environmental solutions chain. The company has always believed that not all waste is waste, since it manages to assign new value to most types of it. Waste ceases to be an environmental liability and is transformed into alternative energy to meet a present need – and a requirement – for a sustainable future.

This article was first published in International Cement Review in August 2020.