The waste management sector could face a squeeze on its market for refuse-derived fuel (RDF) if plans by some user industries to produce it themselves materialise.
In March, Cemex announced plans for a 250,000-tonne capacity plant to provide fuel for its cement works in Rugby, Warwickshire.
This followed an application to the Business Department (BERR) in the previous month by Tilbury Green Power (TGP) for consent to build a 60MW biomass power plant and a 300,000 tonne MBT plant at a location in Essex. The company is a subsidiary of Dutch firm Express Energy Holdings, of which multinational agribusiness Cargill is a shareholder.
Until now, waste companies have been the ones making applications for RDF plants. Shanks, for example, sends RDF from its plants in East London and Dumfries and Galloway to cement works run by Castle Cement and Cemex (see pp 34-37 ).
TGP hopes to build its biomass plant in Tilbury Docks, near Grays, by 2011. The plant’s main feedstock would be 300,000 tonnes of wood chip, imported from the US and elsewhere in Europe. This could be supplemented by 50,000 tonnes of locally sourced waste wood, although a spokesman said such a UK supply chain would "take some time to develop". The plant would also burn some 203,000 tonnes of RDF per year. This would be made from 300,000 tonnes of locally sourced waste, including 80,000 tonnes of municipal waste.
The company has not signed any contracts to process waste into RDF but says it hopes to obtain the municipal waste through the "local authority tendering process". Veolia’s collection and disposal contract with unitary authority Thurrock expires in 2010, while Essex is currently applying for waste PFI credits.
TGP would itself build the RDF plant but "would consider partnering arrangements for the operation of the plant once constructed".
Controversially, the power plant would only produce electricity, at least initially. The company has looked for potential users of waste heat, but so far without success.
Cemex, meanwhile, is still preparing its planning application. The company says it began looking at building a plant because of "a shortage of good-quality" RDF and a lack of consistent supplies.
In March it began a six-week trial at its Rugby works in which it received RDF from a number of suppliers, including several in the UK. In theory the works could use up to 250,000 tonnes of RDF per year - equivalent to all current UK production.
Cemex hopes to build a plant able to produce 120,000 tonnes of RDF per year from 240,000 tonnes of locally sourced municipal and commercial waste. This would be blended with around 125,000 tonnes of RDF "brought in from other areas".
It has identified two possible sites for the plant: one close to the works at the former Malpass Quarry, and another at a former cement works in nearby Southam. Cemex would provide land for the plant but would seek a partner to build and operate it.
But there are questions over whether the plant would be able to source municipal waste from Warwickshire, which is developing two PFI contracts - one in partnership with Staffordshire, the other with Coventry and Solihull councils. Although both contracts would include some kind of energy-from-waste facilities, Cemex’s plan "has come slightly late onto the scene", said Warwickshire’s waste operations manager Roy Burton. But the council "could be interested" in using the plant if Cemex obtains planning permission.