Fuel that doesn’t go to waste

As Australia moves to a renewable energy future, recycling specialist ResourceCo is expanding its operations in the alternative fuel market – by investing in a game changing $30 million project in Sydney.

Over the past decade, numerous legislative changes have been introduced by state and federal governments to reduce the impact of climate change.
The polarising issue, which involves the Earth’s temperature increasing to potentially dangerous levels, has been identified as contributing to rising sea levels and weather events such as bushfires, extreme rainfall and droughts, according to the State of the Climate 2016 report by the Bureau of Meteorology. The Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy notes on its website that human-driven activities, including coal, oil and natural gas, are increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases, which contributes to global warming.

Like all industries, the waste management sector also has a role to play in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Waste which ends up in landfill can emit greenhouse gases. Instead of landfill, resources such as used plastics, paper and cardboard can be converted into an alternative fuel. This not only helps to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint, but has over time in some circumstances become a cheaper form of disposal than landfill.

ResourceCo’s Sydney and Adelaide facilities sort, screen and separate materials.
ResourceCo’s Sydney and Adelaide facilities sort, screen and separate materials.

One of Australia’s largest recycling businesses, ResourceCo, has been at the forefront of producing an alternative fuel to help reduce costs for the energy market and lower CO2 emissions. ResourceCo says process engineered fuel (PEF) can be used as a substitute for coal and gas in energy-intensive facilities, including the cement industry which traditionally relies on fossil fuels to power its kilns.

This helps reduce the energy market’s reliance on fossil fuels as well as landfill emissions, which can have a detrimental impact on CO2 emissions.

Ben Sawley, Chief Executive Officer, Sustainable Energy at ResourceCo, explains that the company has saved cement businesses millions of dollars by using PEF.

He says that the conditions were historically unfavourable for PEF, but changes to the landfill levy in New South Wales and South Australia have spurred investment in the sector.

This is because it needs to be competitive to recycle over landfill, and with a levy now in place in some Australian states and territories, more recycling projects are emerging.

Landfill levies require licenced landfill facilities in legislated states to pay a contribution for each tonne of waste buried in landfill.

In NSW, the state government has redistributed the funds from the landfill levy to the recycling industry through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waste Less, Recycle More (EPA) grants.

Ben says that ResourceCo received $5 million from the EPA for its PEF project.

He says that ResourceCo’s initiative would not be possible without landfill levy legislation, particularly in NSW, which has a metropolitan levy of $135.70 per tonne.

“PEF facilities are competing with landfills and landfills are a relatively cheap businesses to operate, as they are effectively based around a hole in the ground.

“Therefore, it’s far more cost-effective to operate a landfill than a factory. The only way factories can compete with landfill is if there’s a substantial landfill levy,” he says.

He explains that ResourceCo has been working on PEF projects for 10 years. Planning into the NSW facility started when ResourceCo decided to replicate its successful PEF facility in Adelaide on a larger scale in 2012.

The concept took two years to develop before leading to a feasibility study in 2014 and applying for a Waste Less , Recycle More grant that same year.

An artist’s 3D rendering of ResourceCo’s Wetherill Park facility.
An artist’s 3D rendering of ResourceCo’s Wetherill Park facility.

 

They found a suitable site in the Sydney suburb of Wetherill Park, located 34 kilometres from the CBD.

He says that the factors at play in ResourceCo’s expansion included that Sydney has one of the biggest waste markets in Australia, as well as an appropriate landfill levy policy.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) backed the project and provided ResourceCo with $30 million in loans for its Wetherill Park facility and another facility yet to be announced.

Established in 2012, the CEFC Act creates the CEFC Special Account, a special account which is credited with $2 billion each 1 July for five years from 2013, to enable the CEFC to invest in the clean energy sector. It was introduced by the Government in response to dealing with climate change.

Ben says recyclers such as materials recycling facilities take plastic, paper and cardboard and separate it for re-use. ResourceCo only takes the materials that can’t be recycled – which includes non-recyclable plastics, timber, cardboard, paper and textiles. These materials have high embodied energy and would normally go to landfill.

“Any material that has high embodied energy will burn and release heat. At our factories in Adelaide and Sydney, we do various shredding, screening, magnetic and air separation of materials and then size those into a 50mm piece of fuel.”

“Once the process is complete, we transport PEF to cement businesses which is then used in their kiln as a replacement to coal or natural gas.

“Raw materials are heated to high temperatures beyond 1000°C, which then chemically transforms the materials into cement. It takes large amounts of energy to undertake this process, so businesses usually consume large quantities of fossil fuels in the cement-making process.”

“The location of PEF facilities is critical. They need to be in a good location so businesses can bring waste to us easy and conveniently.”

It’s all part of the company’s plan to substantially increase its annual production of alternative fuels in Australia, with the Wetherill Park facility set to be operational in early 2018.

Ben says that one of the key contributors to ResourceCo’s success is that businesses are under increasing pressure to reduce both their operating costs and their emissions in order to meet government targets.

Companies can participate in the carbon market via the registration, generation and sale of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs), under the Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund.

Read the full story on page 42 of Issue 13.