A 25-year contract with Avertas Energy will see Blue Phoenix Group’s incinerator bottom ash processing technology on Australian shores for the first time.
A 2020 report from Infrastructure Partnerships Australia suggests the “looming waste crisis” is a once in a generation opportunity to embrace energy recovery as an effective way to manage waste and provide baseload power.
According to the report, appetite among community and industry stakeholders to reform the waste sector is growing, in response to a decreasing tolerance for landfill and increasing social awareness of related issues.
Waste-to-energy (WtE) has been successfully used for decades to divert non-recyclable waste from landfill overseas, and in recent years, has become a developing market in Australia.
With the wheels now in motion, Australia’s first large-scale WtE facility is set to commence operations later this year.
Located in Kwinana, Western Australia, the Avertas Energy facility is expected to process 400,000 tonnes of municipal solid, commercial and industrial waste under agreements with local governments and other providers in the city’s greater metropolitan area.
While the plant will go a long way towards helping Western Australia meet its diversion targets, an often-overlooked facet of WtE facilities is that the process itself generates waste – in the form of incinerator bottom ash (IBA).
When residue ash is not recycled it is usually buried in landfill, thereby undercutting overarching sustainability goals.
SUSTAINABLE ASH MANAGEMENT
To ensure Kwinana’s ash is recovered, Avertas Energy engaged IBA specialists Blue Phoenix Australia to build, own and operate Australia’s first IBA processing plant.
Ian Lynass, Blue Phoenix Managing Director South East Asia, explains that the companies began conversations three years ago. He adds that because Kwinana is Australia’s first thermal WtE facility, bottom ash has never before been produced at a commercial scale in the country.
“We wanted to work in partnership with Avertas to bring about a sustainable, professional and responsible solution to the recycling and reuse of incinerator bottom ash,” Lynass says.
Blue Phoenix Australia will process 100 per cent of the IBA – circa 80,000 tonnes per annum – using its proprietary technology to recover metals from the ash and produce an aggregate product capable of re-use in civil applications.
The recovered metals are refined and then sold through Blue Phoenix’s network of refining partners globally.
“We’ll then take the aggregate that remains and work with the market and regulators to develop pathways for reuse of the material in applications such as road base, civil, commercial and industrial applications,” Lynass says.
Blue Phoenix Australia expects that approximately 76,000 tonnes of aggregate produced annually will be safely and consistently reused and recycled – resulting in a fully circular WtE system.
“Processing the IBA through our patented technology ensures the end result is an aggregate product that has intrinsic value in the aggregates market,” Lynass says.
RENEWAL AND RESURRECTION
In ancient Greek folklore, a phoenix is a long-lived bird that cyclically regenerates or is otherwise reborn.
Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by rising from the ashes of its predecessor.
New life emerging from something that seems lifeless is the inspiration for Blue Phoenix Group, which applies patented technology to give IBA new life.
Rogier van de Weijer, Blue Phoenix Group International Business Development Manager, explains that the group consists of two companies that came together – UK-based Ballast Phoenix and Netherlands based Inashco.
Inashco was founded in 2008 to offer a unique patented technology developed by the Technical University of Delft for the recovery and upgrading of fine non-ferrous metals from municipal waste ash.
Across the North Sea, Ballast Phoenix was producing recycled aggregate material from IBA, working to replace virgin materials and provide a sustainable, environmentally sound product with structural benefits.
“When the two companies came together it was like a perfect marriage, with one focusing on the recycling of aggregates and the other focusing on the recycling of metals,” Van de Weijer says.
He adds that the convergence of the two technologies allows Blue Phoenix Group to provide a sustainable circular solution for WtE facilities across the UK, Europe, the United States and now Australia.
Blue Phoenix Group’s process involves separating non-ferrous and ferrous metals from ash and removing any unburnt plastics, wood and paper – leaving a sustainable source of aggregate.
“The IBA and resultant IBAA product is like an urban mine, with all the elements brought back into the circular economy to assure zero waste to landfill,” Van de Weijer says.
One of the key challenges to recycling IBA is ensuring the ash is processed successfully to remove and recover the metal content.
According to Van de Weijer, Blue Phoenix Group can remove metals down to minus two millimetres through the application of a technology that is unique to the company.
“By removing those metals, we substantively improve the quality of the aggregates, therefore increasing the recycling applications and reducing the risk of landfill,” he says.
Van de Weijer adds that Blue Phoenix Group employs a unique Source Pathway Receptor process that analyses a number of environmental factors to assess the suitability of the planned use, which assures that the aggregate is responsibly used and monitored.
“We look at the quality of the source, the product we produce and the soil condition of the application area, to minimize environmental risks on groundwater and the environment,” Van de Weijer says.
“We take that information back to our system and give the off-takers a report that says: if you use the aggregate in this manner and on this location, the material is suitable within the legal compliance of your specific country.”
Looking forward, Van de Weijer and Lynass expect Australia to become a significant market, with its proven technology and experience in securing end-markets providing a low-risk option for operators across the country.
“We’re looking to become the partner of choice for WtE facilities across Australia by ensuring we will always be a responsible recycling partner that will not cut corners or compromise standards,” Lynass says.
He explains that Blue Phoenix Australia’s primary focus will be working with customers, government departments, agencies and end users to evolve regulation and support the development of sustainable end-markets.
“WtE facilities are a key facet of the waste hierarchy, so having a responsible, proven technology that Australia can rely upon to minimise risks and maximise recycling is a cornerstone of the circular economy transition for IBA,” Lynass says.
“Our aim is to be that responsible partner – providing an economic solution that closes the loop for councils, individuals, households and communities Australia wide.”
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