Front runners in solid recovered fuel

Stoke-on-Trent-based Brown Recycling has ambitions to become a UK market leader in solid recovered fuel. Nick Warburton visited its state-of-the-art facility to find out more

Gas-filled windows that let the sunlight in and not the heat, air source heating systems and rainwater capture for toilet flushing may not be what you would expect from a waste collection and recycling company.

But then Stoke-on-Trent based Brown Recycling is not your typical waste and recycling operator. The eco-build design of its new site represents a corporate drive towards greater sustainability, which is underscored by its ambitions to become one of the front runners in the emerging UK market for solid recovered fuel (SRF).

The manufacture of SRF has great long-term potential. In an increasingly volatile international energy market, SRF can be burned as alternative fuel instead of coal, oil and gas. As an added sweetener, manufacturers should see a growing demand for SRF from industries as diverse as power stations, paper mills and cement kilns.

Sourcing commercial and industrial and construction and demolition waste, Brown Recycling delivers around 4,000 tonnes of waste material to its nearby MRF every month.

Everything that is recyclable - wood, polythene, cardboard, paper, bricks, soil and metals - is removed and sold on. In the case of the cardboard, paper and polythene, this material goes to a third site nearby where it is baled and exported. The residual waste that used to go to landfill - around 25% of the leftover materials - is then transported up the road to the company's new state-of-the-art plant.

Opened in August 2011, the facility's production line processes about 60% of the residual waste in to SRF; the bulk of the remainder is sold on to scrap dealers.

"We're trying to drive away from the waste industry and towards fuel production," explains Ian Hancock, Brown Recycling's general manager, who admits the company is taking a risk with such a niche market as SRF.

Before choosing this fuel production route, the company briefly toyed with the refuse derived fuel (RDF) market. A scouting trip to Austria where Brown Recycling saw UNTHA's advanced SRF production sealed the deal.

Since the company was entering a market where it had no previous knowledge, Brown Recycling has relied on the expertise of Marcus Brew, UNTHA's UK business development manager for waste and RDF/SRF applications, to get the new venture up and running.

Brew explains that SRF customers need a precise and refined particle size, even more so than RDF. His role has been to structure the plant's production system so that quality yields are produced for the end user.

"Whereas before it has been about quantity in the industry - what tonnage can we process - quality is going to be the driver going forward," he warns.
"Anyone who is thinking about designing one of these plants and doesn't see that is going to get themselves into a horrible mess."

The residual waste is first fed into UNTHA's pre-shredder, which slices up materials that could cause blockages and stop operations. Cut to a 150mm particle size, the material is then run over a magnet band to extract ferrous metals before entering a vibrating finger screen, which sifts out soils and fine materials.

After passing through a large air separation box to remove large lumps of materials, it travels through an eddy current separator to remove any aluminium that could damage UNTHA's post-shredder, which cuts the remaining waste down into a light, fluffy 30mm fuel material.

Brown Recycling has been running an eight-hour day shift, producing around 10,000 tonnes of SRF for export to cement kilns in Latvia. However, once the UK market opens up, it could triple the tonnage.

"Due to the sophisticated nature of the technologies we have invested in and the materials that we are processing, we are producing a very high quality product for which we can demand a premium price in the marketplace," says Rod Brown, managing director.

"If more companies enter the SRF arena, then the demand for quality will go up. I would then hope that the UK marketplace will expand and follow the trends seen in Europe."

Nick Warburton is editor of LAWR


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