These days, a walk with your loved one along the quiet alleyways of Naples’ old city centre will not induce any feelings of romance, that’s for sure. The smell is unbearable, and the view is simply unimaginable. Piles of household waste have been littered on the pavements for months and the city’s authority is far from solving the problem.
Traditionally, Italian household waste is either burned or piled up in landfill sites. However, this method of dealing with our household rubbish is outdated, as most of the material is far too valuable to dump in the landscape for good. Germany has stopped using depots on a large scale since June 2005 and this has triggered new technologies towards recycling as much of the rubbish collected as possible. The European Commission co-funded the demonstration project RECOFUEL with the aim of developing a technology that would make it possible to turn waste into fuel.
REMONDIS is a waste management specialist which has taken a leading role in recycling, refining and separating waste. In their plant in Erftstadt, Germany, they have been turning specific commercial wastes into a Solid Recoverd Fuel for the cement industry for years. But now they have taken up a new challenge to sort household, bulky and commercial waste and turn it into a fuel that can be used in a existing coal burning power station – alongside brown coal.
The power station used as a guinea pig for this research is Berrenrath in Erftstadt near Cologne, whose management was closely involved in the development of the new substitute fuel. Franz-Josph Kipshagen from RWE Power explains the problem: “Household waste contains high levels of chlorine and, unfortunately, chlorine can cause serious corrosion to our burning chambers. This is why we can only use a maximum of 20% substitute fuel in our power station, as otherwise the overall chlorine level would be too high.”
In order to control and guarantee the quality of the Solid Recoverd Fuel, the material is regularily tested by IMAT-UVE, an independent laboratory based in Mönchengladbach, Germany. Apart from chlorine, the lab technicians also verify the calorific value and the levels of heavy metals in the substitute fuel. This is important as the emissions of the power station must be kept below the prescribed limits.
The research on RECOFUEL, has already moved from developing a technology to a commercial enterprise – with a notable ecological effect. Today, Remondis produces about 60.000 tons of substitute fuel for the Berrenrath power station per year, amounting to approximately 16% of the total fuel burned here. Dr. Thomas Glorius, co-ordinator of the RECOFUEL project, points out that the substitute fuel contains high levels of biogenic material like paper and wood, and this has a favourable effect on the CO2 emissions compared to brown coal. “As a rule of thumb”, he explains, “we save one ton of CO2 for each ton of Solid Recovered Fuel that we use.” That is an impressive 200 tons a day – saved by recycling waste to fuel.
The RECOFUEL project has shown that substitute fuel is technologically possible and ecologically favourable. After the success in Erftstadt, producing Solid Recovered Fuel could become an option for other waste management schemes in Europe and beyond. However, as some parts of Europe cannot even cope with basic waste collection, the implementation of this recycling method is more likely to fail on political grounds. It seems turning waste to fuel is no longer a question of technology, but rather a question of political will and local management.
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