Of paper and polymer
The impact of extracting and using coal and other fossil fuels in cement manufacturing is the subject of much legislation, policy development and decisions on project financing. In addition to the extensive energy conservation efforts undertaken by the cement industry itself, alternative fuel (AF) switching is part of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Technology Roadmap Low-Carbon Transition in the Cement Industry and referenced as a carbon emissions reduction lever.1
Materials Lifecycle Management Co (MLMC) – based in Parker, Colorado, USA – is working at local, regional and federal levels to boost understanding and awareness for the critical need to capture high-energy, clean materials and direct them into a supply chain to manufacture a solid fuel that is not an opportunity or waste fuel but a commodity, similar to traditional fuels.
To support this new, viable supply chain, the company opened in March 2019 a new 200,000tpa fuel manufacturing facility in Plant City, Florida. At this new plant, locally-sourced raw material feedstock will be converted to a solid fuel that reduces the need to burn coal, heavy oil and other fossil fuels. Building on more than 20 years of experience, it aims to provide economic benefits to local and industrial suppliers while delivering a reliable AF supply to its customers, including the cement industry.
The new fuel production facility is the latest in a series of milestones since the company’s start-up in 1998. MLMC’s predecessor began its journey in western Massachusetts where it specialized in sourcing non-recyclable papers and laminated films from local manufacturers to support its line of converting and mill broke business. Further processing of these materials also created a stream of paper and polymer byproducts that could be blended and densified into a solid fuel product, Enviro Fuel Cubes® (EFC) with characteristics that compared favorably to heavy fuels such as coal: no mercury, very low sulphur, high heating values and simple burning. EFCs are engineered mainly as a coal substitute to produce heat or steam as required in industrial manufacturing and utility power generation. They deliver a heat value of ~10,000Btu/lb with some variation (see below). Their high heat value, low moisture and other pre-engineered characteristics make EFCs a homogenous, simple-to-use fossil fuel substitute that provides many environmental benefits over coal.
As these were ‘clean’ materials and tightly controlled at the upstream manufacturing sources, the company began a multi-year journey to gain recognition as a fossil fuel substitute in energy-intensive industries (EII).
The goal was two-fold, first seeking to gain recognition as a non-waste fuel, as well as pursuing recognition under state renewable energy standards given the fuel product’s composition (at least 75 percent fibre). From the outset, it was an uphill struggle: byproducts such as these were still considered a waste and as such, any fuel product derived from them would be a waste fuel. In addition, incinerators did not want the fuel as its heat value was too high and MLMC was not in the business of paying to have its fuel burned.
Regardless, MLMC’s team met with regulators and policymakers in its home state and over 20 other states where solid fuel permitting rules existed. While many states were willing to work with MLMC, the lack of a clear non-waste fuel path at the federal level was a huge obstacle. The company finally gained recognition under the Massachusetts Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, though opportunities for credit were not available.
Despite these challenges, MLMC successfully conducted over 19 AF trials in domestic cement kilns, power stations and paper mills. In one case, a kiln made a short-term, 100 percent replacement of its coal with EFC at a feed rate of 14tph – at the time reportedly very rare.
Circumstances changed for MLMC in 2011. In one of the earliest determinations under the US EPA’s non-hazardous secondary materials regulations (40 CFR 241.3), MLMC and its fuel product were given a clear path to enter the market and compete with traditional fuels, especially coal and heavy oil. The key points in the US EPA decision reflected MLMC’s use of a selective raw material sourcing method and its manufacturing technology, which result in a fuel product with characteristics meeting or exceeding published data for Contaminant Concentrations in Traditional Fuels.2
Specific sourcing model
MLMC’s sourcing model is based on the selection of high-energy, simple-burning and ‘environmentally-clean’ materials to manufacture MLMC’s fuel product. Depending on the market, blending adjustments can yield a higher net fuel value (9000-11,000Btu/lb) or a higher net biomass content (at 85 percent biomass, EFC yields over 8000Btu/lb).
The fuel’s raw material is controllable and plentiful. However, despite common perception, not everything is recyclable as a function of market conditions. There has been much in the popular media recently indicating the global challenges to recycling and the virtual collapse of the market. Reports in the New York Times,3 among others, cite challenges to the established recycling infrastructure in cities and towns with the result being that previously-recycled materials are now being landfilled. While much of the current concern regards post-consumer or municipal solid waste (MSW) streams, massive amounts of energy are also available in pre-consumer industrial and commercial sectors of interest to MLMC.
What makes materials non-recyclable is a combination of their construction and market economics. For instance, many materials are actually built from layers, or contain pigments and other enhancements, or may have been blended – all of which results in little to no recycling value.
These raw materials are good energy-dense fuel substrates. The energy value in non-recyclable plastics (NRP) is discussed in detail in many recent publications. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) sponsored a report by the Earth Engineering Center of the City College of New York (EEC CCNY) and found that “multi-layered flexible plastic packaging and laminates are well suited for energy recovery since most of their mass can be converted to useful energy. As plastics continue to displace other materials in a variety of applications, these findings are important for policymakers tasked with finding post-use solutions for non-recycled plastics as well as abundant, reliable sources of alternative energy.”4
Quantity estimates are also reliable. Themelis and Mussche5 cite: “The majority of NRP in the US, approximately 82.7 percent (32.5Mt), is currently landfilled. This represents a loss of a valuable alternative energy resource. There is a significant opportunity to transform the abundant energy in NRP into electricity and heat and to commercialize new processes that produce higher-value fuels and chemical feedstocks.”
Ready to supply
Fuel costs are proportionate with coal and MLMC does not receive incentives or credits. While MLMC is watching the renewables and carbon policy horizon, its business stands on its own. As CEO and President, Todd Wenner, observed: “With MLMC, there’s nothing to wait for – as a manufacturing business we can be operational in several months, not years. We can operate in many markets, close to both our raw material supply and our fuel buyers. Our market model is designed to capture the energy in 400Mlb of nonrecyclable material and turn it into a fuel product that can be used today to make cement. EFC is a locally-sourced fuel used to make a local infrastructure and building product.”
MLMC makes it easy for its offtake partners – fuel is delivered in standard freight quantities, usually by dry trailer. Utilization costs are very low, as EFCs can be directly fed with traditional rotary airlock technology or injected co-tangentially with solid fuel using MLMC’s proprietary EFC De-Densification and Delivery Unit® or DDU®. The DDU is a stand-alone unit capable of delivering 20tph of fuel using low-volume, high-pressure blowers. The DDU is controlled by kiln operators, and performance, as reported in trials, suggests that the fast burning nature of the EFCs allows for additional control to offset coal mix variability and dampness.
MLMC’s business is a true and sustainable partnership as it creates a new product from unwanted and unusable high-energy materials. The suppliers for MLMC’s raw materials enter long-term supply agreements that allow MLMC to work on long-term fuel agreements with its cement industry partners. Thus, a circular economy is created. The well-being of each party is critical to the overall success of the relationship.
In addition, local social and economic benefits are both obvious and significant. In terms of local employment, MLMC’s new facility in Plant City is on track to employ over 45 workers.
Furthermore, MLMC’s business model takes unusable materials out of the commercial and industrial sectors at a lower cost than what is seen in either waste-to-energy or landfilling. There are many efficiencies MLMC applies to make this happen – pricing incentives, long-term agreements, switching to larger containers and in-plant partnerships to safeguard feedstock integrity. As a result, many MLMC suppliers see solid waste reductions of as much as 80 percent once the waste enters the MLMC supply chain.
Additional market opportunities also exist in MLMC’s secondary lines of business. The majority of MLMC’s effort is focussed on non-recyclable and low-market value materials. But, because of the amount of material MLMC accesses, recycling and re-use are options where market economics are favorable and reliable supplies can be developed. MLMC continuously monitors these markets to ensure sustainability in its business model.
Working with the cement industry is especially rewarding for MLMC and its suppliers. The company sees a local outlet for high-value fuel materials and a part of those materials (the ash) returns to the economy in the cement product itself. Therefore, in addition to fossil fuel substitution and its benefits, MLMC’s suppliers are partners in reducing the cement kilns’ raw material needs.
1 Fernandez, A and Leung, Y (2018), Technology Roadmap Low-Carbon Transition in the Cement Industry. Paris, France: International Energy Agency, 66p. [Accessed 21 May 2019 – https://www.iea.org/ publications/freepublications/publication/ TechnologyRoadmapLowCarbon Transitioninthe CementIndustry.pdf]
2 US ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (2011) Contaminant Concentrations in Traditional Fuels: Tables for Comparison. Washington DC, USA: Environmental Portection Agency, 5p.[Accessed 21 May 2019 – https:// www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-01/ documents/nhsm_cont_tf.pdf]
3 Corkery , M (2019) ‘As Costs Skyrocket, More U.S. Cities Stop Recycling’ in: New York Times, 16 March. [Accessed 21 May 2019 – https:// www.nytimes.com/2019/03/16/business/localrecycling- costs.html]
4 Tsiamis, D A AND Castaldi , M J (2016) Heating value of non-recycled waste plastics (NRP). New York, USA: City College of New York – Earth Engineering Center, 27p. [Accessed 21 May 2019 – https://plastics.americanchemistry.com/ Energy-Values-Non-Recycled-Plastics.pdf
5 Themelis, N and Mussche , C (2014) Energy and Economic Value of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), Including Non-Recycled Plastics (NRP), Currently Landfilled in the Fifty States. New York, USA: Columbia University, 40p.