Berthold Kren, Business Head, Geocycle India & Head of Geocycle Asia, discusses AFR initiatives of the industry, its advantages and where India stands by this yardstick.
What are the main AFR materials you are using in your plants in India?
If we split the waste into segments, the largest segment is that of agricultural waste. So, the number one biomass is paddy husk and biomass that is available in agricultural residue. Then comes industrial waste, which is split into non-hazardous and hazardous category. The former mainly comes from big industries like steel, aluminium and FMCG companies like Coca Cola, PepsiCo, ITC, Nestle, Hindustan Unilever etc. The hazardous waste comes mainly from automotive, pharmaceutical and chemical industries. And the third segment is Segregated Combustible Fraction (SCF)/ Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) which originates from municipal waste, household waste or garbage that is collected in cities and then treated by ULBs or contractors to enable it to become usable fraction for cement kiln. This is the fastest growing origin of waste. In addition, we also utilise hundreds of thousands of tons of mineral waste, originating from heavy industries like steel, alumina, foundries and thermal power plants. Any waste that is arriving at our sites, still needs certain levels of pre-processing (bringing it into the right form and quality) before it can be co-processed (thermally used) in our cement kilns. We receive waste usually direct from the origins (industries, municipalities and collectors) and meticulously test every truck, to ensure compliance even beyond legal requirements. Preprocessing waste and utilising them in the cement process is a costly process if done properly and in a compliant way. It requires experience, knowledge and a lot of investment.
You are also said be a plastic negative company...
Yes, both Ambuja Cement and ACC co-process a multiple of their own plastic footprint, although cement bags are usually reused/recycled several times prior to end of life for different purposes. Geocycle even helps other companies to become plastic negative. Geocycle only co-processes the non-recyclable plastic. A lot of plastic waste comes from industries directly as a production residue. From municipal waste, there is quite some plastic waste in SCF, if the municipality decides to segregate the collected streams. And of course, we take all sorts of non-recyclable plastic waste directly from dry waste management centres and plastic collectors. Recyclable plastic is economically and ecologically better used in the recycling industry.
Are you part of Swachh Bharat Mission too?
Co-processing is an important part of Swachh Bharat as well. We have a solution for segregated waste, 30 or 40 per cent of the volume that would go to an ordinary municipal landfill. For example, Mumbai produces 10,000-12,000 tonnes of fresh municipal waste every day. If a city of that size decides to segregate the waste, to enable composting and biomethanation, then the remaining at least 1,200 tonnes of segregated combustible fraction can be processed further and used in cement kilns or waste-to-energy plants.
In our biggest operation at ACC's Wadi plant, we have the capability and expertise to pre-process 600 tonnes of such a fraction in a day by September-October 2019. With 600 tonnes, it will be around 20 per cent Thermal Substitution Rate (TSR, replacement of natural resources). But this requires a lot of investment in logistics and installations upfront. The Swachh Bharat Mission is only one step; we will have to do a lot more.
What is the level of energy efficiency you have achieved?
The Indian cement industry is one of the most energy efficient countries in the sector. The efforts in energy efficiency and CO2 reduction are far ahead of the targets for most of the players. So is Ambuja Cement and ACC. Besides that we are also by far the biggest co-processor of Alternative Fuels and Raw Materials (AFR) in the country and Geocycle is definitively the market leader. If we take the average of both the companies, I think this year we will achieve something around six per cent TSR realistically. We have kiln lines which can achieve over 20 per cent of TSR.
Unfortunately, the availability of waste is not evenly spread out through the country. That is currently the biggest problem. Waste has sometimes to be transported for too long to reach a cement plant. Our superstars are Ambuja Cement's Maratha Cement Works (MCW) plant which has already achieved 22 per cent and ACC Wadi plant is achieving close to 20 per cent, mainly based on plastic and RDF from municipal waste. The waste is coming from municipalities and sites, who have decided to collaborate with us and build up a robust system. They collect and treat, and we offer the service of pre- and co-processing - a symbiosis that is working very well.
To what extent Indian cement companies are comparable to global benchmarks in exploiting AFR? Utilising AFR may be?
The average Indian cement industry usage, according to Cement Manufacturers Association (CMA), is somewhere at three to four per cent. Compared with most of the South East Asian countries where LafargeHolcim is present or was present, India is at the backbench. Countries like Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have sometimes double or triple of the TSR that we have. Even compared with Latin America, which is a comparable market, there is a huge gap to close. In Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Honduras; we see TSR in double digits. Compared with countries in Africa, there are some countries where TSR is 20 plus per cent, Egypt, for example, is also in double digit already. In Europe, we have countries/organisations which are already beyond 80 to 90 per cent. So we have a lot of catch up.
Why is India at the backbench?
There are several reasons. Firstly, availability of proper waste. The composition of waste is different in India and the segregation levels are poor. The Indian cement industry, and particularly both Ambuja Cement and ACC, have a huge potential to utilise waste. But quantity and quality of the waste that is collected and prepared is inferior compared to other countries.
Secondly, the distances that waste has to travel are too long and costly. The third is, If you want to achieve 20-30-40 per cent of TSR, you need not only a lot of knowledge and technical understanding, but also require a lot of investment. Last but not the least, a functioning and efficient collection and segregation of waste has to be developed. We see that in LATAM and especially in Europe.
What are the advantages of co-processing in cement plants vs. other processes?
A lot of industries have zero landfill policy and they are willing to take this responsibility and pay for the sustainable disposal of waste. And this has two positive effects - The waste finds its way to the most economical and ecological solution. Be it recycling, or any other solution. Waste, that cannot be recycled as a product, is repurposed and used in co-processing in cement kilns. In addition, co-processing does not create an additional emission point and there is no residue to be landfilled later. If you go for pure waste incineration, you always have to deal with off gas emissions and you have ash at the end. Most of these ashes have to be landfilled. The cement process has a built-in off gas cleaning process, which is well monitored, and doesn't leave behind any ashes.
Then what is the hindrance?
The problem of waste in India is huge and people are looking for a quick fix, which doesn't exist. States like Germany and Austria, leading in waste treatment, needed about 40 years to achieve current standards. The Polluter Pays Principle and a strict adherence to the waste hierarchy paired with raising awareness in the society, have led to this development. Legally India has reached the same state, but now these principles need to be implemented as well. Currently people expect to be paid for any waste, arguing that it has value. But non recyclable waste cannot be used directly in the kiln, it needs to be transported and pre-processed until it can be used in installations that need special maintenance and costs a lot of money. At the moment, there is a notion that proposes that the cement industry pays for the disposal/co-processing of RDF. This violates the "Polluter Pays Principle". Why? If the "polluter has to pay" for generating waste, number one, it creates demand of waste treatment capacity. It will enable the creation of new recycling technologies and a positive development in waste treatment. Number two, it increases the pressure on the industry and society to reduce waste. So, in principle it is a win-win situation for everybody. If it costs money to dispose the waste, you will start producing more cleverly, segregate better and recycle more - A method that is applied successfully all over the world. You will buy products which have less waste. The industries will produce their products by creating less waste or in a recyclable way. Same applies to municipalities but indeed the funding in the municipal sector is a delicate topic. I do believe that even this can be done in a proper way, as soon as municipalities start to understand the value of having less dumpsites, less soil, water and air pollution. We need to take into account the cost for the sanitation of these dumpsites/landfills that will pollute the environment for generations. Cities will have to spend more for proper segregation and waste treatment in the near future to solve these issues on the long term for keeping them cleaner.
So, what is the way forward...
Waste management, like any other business, needs to be self-sustainable to a certain degree. A prospering waste industry will also have proper competition. We will be bound to this competition too. If there is a better solution than co-processing, it will prevail. That way, everybody benefits. The most economical and the most ecological solution will prevail. Whatever recycling or treatment solution you pick, it costs money. And if it is paid for, then these solutions will flourish. Eventually at one point a landfill tax might be discussed to reduce landfilling further and steer the streams more towards recycling and waste avoidance.
If that hindrance is removed, then what..?
A flourishing waste industry will develop and many solutions will coexist, amongst which you can choose the best suitable. Also the capacities of waste utilization in the cement industry will build faster; the knowledge and competence will grow. Ambuja Cement and ACC have been building capacities and experience for seven years. The development can still accelerate.
What is the target of energy efficiency in your plants, please discuss the timeline as well?
We definitely have a target to go beyond 20 per cent TSR, by 2025. From 6 per cent at present, we have still quite a lot of ground to cover. So, this is a very ambitious target and it depends not only on ACC and Ambuja Cement, it also depends on the availability of waste. Starting from September-October our biggest plant in Wadi will go on full steam. But I also hope for Ambuja Cement's Bhatapara and MCW plants where each one kiln can already achieve 300 to 400 tonnes of consumption a day.
Can you give a brief description about Geocycle, its objectives?
LafargeHolcim is globally the biggest cement and construction material company, and before the merger, both Lafarge and Holcim had a very strong focus on utilisation of AFR in their operations. Geocycle existed already within the Holcim organisation, and after the merger between Lafarge and Holcim in 2015, the Group had decided to maintain this brand and roll it out globally. Now, Geocycle is present in over 50 countries and basically in all the countries where LafargeHolcim has its cement operation. In this respect, I represent the regional organisation for Asia, which contains South East Asia, India, Bangladesh and Philippines, and until recently it also included Indonesia and Malaysia. Geocycle is an organisation with 160 people on seven production sites in India. And in total we are utilising AFR in 19 of our 21 kilns of ACC and Ambuja.
Being the leader in cement industry sustainability how many companies are utilising your services in India and globally? In India we have more than 600 customers now, and globally, we are talking about thousands of customers that we are servicing, co-processing more than 11 million tonnes of waste every year worldwide. With this, we are amongst the biggest waste management companies in the world. In India, we have a target to co-process one million tonnes this year, against 880 thousand tonnes achieved in 2018.
Any non-cement sustainability initiative you have undertaken...
In north India, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, they burn crop residue and the smoke engulfs the capital city of Delhi creating a lot of pollution, and Geocycle is collecting that waste biomass for co-processing. Together with Ambuja Cement Foundation (ACF), we have created farmers associations. Through these associations we collect the biomass and co-process it. Indeed in this case we pay the farmers for their biomass, because it requires workforce to produce it to our specifications. My grandfather was a farmer too and I am actually happy that this works out so well. Through ACF we are working a lot there to support farmers in other respects as well.
Is Delhi government supporting your project?
As Geocycle, we are not getting any subsidy or incentive; neither are we asking for it. We can make the business self-sustainable. If we can't manage it this way it would be only is short lived. But indeed we see a lot of support from the ministries and government. We are always open to collaborate.
- BS SRINIVASALU REDDY