New Study on the management of RDF and SRF in the EU

On behalf of the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Duisburg-based consulting firm “MVW Lechtenberg & Partner” has prepared a study on the current use of waste-derived fuels in the European Union, which has now been published.
Source: Pexels;

Refuse derived fuels (RDF) including solid recovered fuels (SRF) currently replace about 52% of the thermal energy demand of the European cement industry.

The study evaluated the current use of waste-derived fuels in industry, as well as the technical, regulatory and economic influences on their future use.

The study finds that the overall level of RDF generation in several EU Member States (MSs) is lower than the potential maximum uptake. It appears that RDF utilisation in energy intensive industrial processes could be approximately two to three times higher than is the case at present and 1.5 times higher than estimated future RDF generation.

Some other key findings are, that in some Member states, the uptake for RDF is currently significantly lower than the amount of RDF generated, leading to considerable amounts of potentially valuable resources being sent to landfill and filling-up the landfills earlier than necessary.

  • It is possible for cement and lime producers to substitute with RDF up to 85% of their energy need currently produced from solid fossil fuels, provided that the required qualitative and quantitative specifications are met.
  • Many potential end-users of RDF (for example, the cement and lime industries, WtE and coal-fired power plants) are concerned about potential operational disturbances due to the frequently inconsistent quality of RDF (which can vary in terms of its calorific value and biogenic carbon, water, chlorine, and mercury content), compared to more standardised fossil fuels, coupled with uncertainty regarding the availability of feedstock. This results in potential RDF consumers continuing to use fossil fuels for operation of their main production lines, despite the higher energy costs and emissions.
  • To meet end-user quality requirements and ensure profitability, RDF producers must apply rigid quality control management techniques, often requiring additional investment in specialised technical equipment. New waste management plants may require relatively large investments from the outset.
  • For users of RDF, the shift from fossil fuels to RDF also often requires additional investments, which, however, pays back.
  • The substitution of fossil fuels by RDF can help to reduce EU imports of primary fossil fuels, thus reducing CO2 emissions and contributing to meeting EU landfill targets. The environmental benefit is obvious.
  • From a legislative point of view, the uptake of RDF by energy-intensive operators is mostly influenced by waste disposal taxes (as higher landfill and/or incineration taxes can lead to greater RDF uptake) and may also be impacted by any future revisions to the emissions trading system (ETS), such as the possible inclusion of municipal waste incineration in the ETS.

Finally, increasing EU recycling targets and implementing the waste hierarchy principle may have a negative impact on RDF quality (including its calorific value) and thus on its uptake.

The chemical recycling of plastics in particular will have a considerable influence on the availability of substitute fuels with a high calorific value, as the waste that has so far been thermally recycled will be separated from these waste streams in the future and chemically recycled at a higher value and returned to the raw material cycle, according to Dirk Lechtenberg, Managing Director of the consulting company.

Lechtenberg also sees “an incipient ‘run on biomass’, especially waste wood, which will be used in larger quantities as a substitute fuel in the future to reduce fossil fuel emissions in industry.”

The full study can be downloaded here.


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