Waste to Energy to Wealth
Waste to Energy to Wealth

Waste to Energy to Wealth

Handling of waste; be it hazardous, industrial or domestic was never so challenging in the earlier years. However cement industry offers an easy solution with minimal cost that needs to be utilised fully.

Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation and increasing household income are leading to higher waste volumes in India. The safe and effective disposal of this increasing level of waste generation is a key concern for authorities at local, State and Government level. One way forward is the promotion of large-scale co-processing in the cement industry, and to create a more conducive regulatory environment.

The increased use of waste as alternative fuel and raw material (AFR) in cement kilns can make a considerable contribution to effective and safe waste disposal efforts. In addition, this will not only help with the Indian cement industry become more competitive on a global stage, but is also in line with Prime Minister Modi's "Swachh Bharat Abhiyan"(Clean India campaign), which has been launched throughout the country as a national movement. It has become necessary in the present situation of Covid-19 pandemic, we revisit "Swachh Bharat Abhiyan."

While the domestic cement industry has made significant strides in terms of enhancing energy efficiency and optimising productivity, the use of AFR is still a major area that can be developed. Thermal substitution of coal remains low compared to the European average of 40 per cent and varies dramatically from plant to plant. While some leading facilities report substitution rates of between 15 to 20 per cent, most achieve less than three per cent.

Challenges faced by Indian cement industry
The slow pace of revision of waste management rules to keep pace with current advancements in waste management approaches-i.e. co-processing and the absence of a proper waste hierarchy that recognises waste stream suited for co-processingùhas been a long-standing barrier for co-processing in the country. Limited waste availability,the level of co-processing depends on the plant location and available surrounding waste market.

At present, obtaining a regular supply of homogeneous waste is asignificant challenge for cement plants as detailed information on quality, quantity and the type of waste generated is not readily available in the public domain. Since data on the quantity and quality of waste is minimal or outdated, cement producers have to spend a considerable amount of time and resources in exploring the availability of different types of AFR, thus weakening the business case for waste utilisation.

Lengthy permit process
The long permit processes further compounds the issue. To initiate co-processing, cement plants must conduct trial runs to obtain clearances from local and pollution control authorities, which is not only a lengthy process but also cost intensive. Although state regulatory bodies are working to simplify procedures, an approach based on the infrastructure, and measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) system in place at co-processing sites would be more appropriate than a trial-based one. Moreover, the inter-state movement of waste (except agricultural waste) comes with its own challenges.

The inter-State movement of hazardous waste in India is not usually encouraged, requires additional permissions and is marred by the lack of certified transporters who can safely move materials from waste generators to cement plants. Permitting the inter-state movement of waste would certainly support the uptake of waste utilisation in the cement industry. However, clearly-defined responsibilities for each stakeholder in terms of collection, packaging, transportation, handling and storage, etc would go some way to helping authorities in their decision-making process. Similarly, the development of operational guidelines with built-in safety features for the aforementioned associated-activities will aid safe and environmentally sound co-processing.

The expert group is also examining various kinds of incentives that can be accorded to both waste generators and waste users that pursue co-processing opportunities. Incentives could be, for instance, financial, government recognition, or faster approval process, etc. The co-processing movement has received further stimulus from the Clean India Mission, as the government is currently working on the revision of various waste management rules.

The initiative recognises co-processing as one of the approaches for waste management, as well as emphasises the importance of segregation of waste at source which will help ensure the homogeneous supply of waste for co-processing. Though India still has a long way to go in terms of forming a comprehensive co-processing system, now is an opportune time for domestic cement industry to focus on how co-processing can help increase its competitiveness on a global stage, and assist with the disposal of the country's every-increasing volumes of waste.

What is the circular economy?
Taking as an example the cyclical nature pattern, circular economy is presented as a system of resources utilisation where reduction, reuse and recycling of elements prevails: minimise production to a bare minimum, and when it's necessary to use the product, go for the reuse of the elements that cannot return to the environment.

That is, the circular economy promotes the use of as many biodegradable materials as possible in the manufacture of products -biological nutrients- so they can get back to nature without causing environmental damage at the end of their useful life. When it is not possible to use eco-friendly materials-technical nutrients: electronics, hardware, batteries-the aim is to facilitate a simple uncoupling to give them a new life by reintroducing them into the production cycle and compose a new piece. When this is not possible, it will be recycled in a respectful way with the environment.

Circular economy is a substantial improvement common to both businesses and consumers. Companies that have implemented this system are proving that reusing resources is much more cost effective than creating them from scratch. As a result, production prices are reduced, so that the sale price is also lowered, thereby benefiting the consumer; not only economically, but also in social and environmental aspects.

The main objective of the circular economy is to make economic systems and industrial processes more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Shifting to a circular economy is not a straight forward process and requires substantial changes in the value chain, such as; adapted design, better waste and water management, greater recycling and re-use of products. European Union has done much more work than any other such body.

Based on the data of 2015, turning waste into a resource - only around one-third was recycled and the rest incinerated or landfilled. Estimated additional potential for reuse/recycling is up to 600 MT. If this material is lost then growth, job creation and competitiveness will be compromised and negative environmental impacts generated. The main objective is to recycle more in order to have more "waste" which can be used as a resource. Recycling is a pre-condition for the circular economy.

However, it is important to be aware that there are two problems connected to the topic:
The "legal" base is missing: Currently, there is an action plan which is still under discussion at the EU commission. Final recycling targets are still to be fixed, as well as the methods of calculation to be used. It will take some time until the action plan has been formally finalised by the EU and it will require more time to transfer the amended EU laws into national laws- However, we should remain prepared as these implementations are clearly approaching.

The comparison of data from the different countries has not proved easy so far; with each EU country applying different methods for the counting of waste streams and the calculation of recycling targets, which has rendered the data from different countries more or less incomparable. One target of a circular economy is to harmonise these methods of definition and calculation.

Are we in India prepared for a circular economy?

- VIKAS DAMLE

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