The value of co-processing

The value of co-processing
21 May 2021

This week, the European cement association, Cembureau held an open webinar on 'A circular and carbon neutral Europe: The role of co-processing'. The webinar not only looked at how co-processing works and the use of different waste streams, but also considered key policy measures and co-processing's contribution to the wider Green Deal initiative.

The Green Deal
Peter Wessman, legal officer at the Directorate of Environment, European Commission (EC), argued that the central pillars of the Green Deal are to mobilise industry towards a clean and circular economy. The important steps are described in detail in the Action Plan adopted by the EC, which addresses waste prevention, separate recycling collection and the creation of a single market for recycling.  

Ambitious recycling targets for municipal solid waste (MSW) have been set at 55 per cent by 2025, 60 per cent by 2030 and 65 per cent by 2035. Waste prevention means that no waste should be produced, and member states are required to encourage the reuse of product and systems for promoting repair and reuse activities. However, challenges remain in setting up separate waste collection and providing a robust international single market, where waste has free movement across EU borders with no restrictions.

Koen Coppenholle, CEO of Cembureau, pointed out that in terms of the Green Deal, the cement industry already ticks three boxes:
• carbon reduction: 21.7Mt of CO2 avoidance annually through co-processing
• resource efficiency: less primary raw materials and primary fossil fuels are consumed by the industry, which uses 48 per cent alternative fuels (with 17 per cent biomass waste)
• waste management and the circular economy: through co-processing the cement industry takes up a central position in the circular economy, reducing the need for waste to be sent to landfill.

Co-processing offers the fastest route to early decarbonisation
Susan Pasuki, senior alternatives fuel manager at HeidelbergCement, argued that co-processing goes hand-in-hand with the zero waste targets from the EU's Green Deal. "Co-processing is the fastest way of having a positive impact on CO2 emission reduction," she said. The industry has made strides in avoiding the use of fossil fuels and primary raw materials. Simultaneously, the emphasis now for cement producers is to invest in projects for carbon capture, utilisation and storing technologies. "We want to be the first to have real technical solutions to use CO2 and capture it in the future. But until we get there co-processing is one of the biggest options to reduce carbon emissions," said Pasuki.

The benefits of co-processing
Meanwhile, Dr Renato Sarc, Montan University, Leoben, Austria, said it is important to define the quality of utilisation of base fuels in the cement industry. "Co-processing means utilisation of the energy but, also at the same time, utilisation of the mineral content which is the ash content of the waste fuels. These ashes are in the range of 18 per cent of solid recovered fuel (SRF) for the cement industry. Out of this 18 per cent, 80 per cent consists of four main chemical oxides that are raw materials for cement production," explained Dr Sarc. 

Co-processing needs to be understood as a process of energy conversion, or a mixture of recycling for SRF and energy recovery. There is also a hierarchy of waste recycling and the higher calorific value fuels come from the recycling of plastics. The primary and secondary firing systems in kilns need different calorific values with higher energy fuels for high temperature combustion and lower calorific fuels for secondary combustion. While prevention of waste is the priority, separate waste recycling collection is vital.

"There is a quality-criteria for co-processing, too" added Sigrid Hams of the Quality Association for Secondary Fuels and Recycled Wood (BGS), Germany. "It does not mean more plastic gets into co-combustion. Producers aim to put as many different wastes in the SRF production as possible but using materials that cannot be recycled. Plastics need to be collected separately and treated before use. It is the residues after processing that are used for SRF production."

Mobilising the clean circular economy
To overcome the challenges of co-processing, energy recovery and more recycling, we need time, according to Dr Sarc. So, the circular economy targets are for 2025, 2030, 2035 or even 2040. For now, "We need more capacity for co-processing because 50Mt of just MSW is still going untreated to landfill," he explained. 

Participants of the webinar concluded that the main challenges to reach 100 per cent co-processing in the EU are issues of local and national waste management and building the legislative framework. 

"The cement industry has come from two per cent co-processing in 1990 to 48 per cent today in the EU," added Koen Coppenholle. "We have a 60 per cent target by 2030 and 90 per cent target by 2050. If we have set these targets, it means that they are technically realistic."

The panel discussion participants were: Susan Pasuki, senior alternatives fuel manager at HeidelbergCement; Dr Renato Sarc, Montan University, Leoben, Austria; Sigrid Hams, Quality Association for Secondary Fuels and Recycled Wood (BGS), Germany; Peter Wessman, legal officer, DG Environment, European Commission, and Koen Coppenholle, CEO of CEMBUREAU. The moderator was Katrina Sitchel.

Published under Cement News