The secret to effectively managing the production of energy from ‘dirty fuels’

Generating energy from RDF & SRF

Innovation is the driving force behind the world’s waste and recycling industry, and perhaps now more than ever is it important that businesses are helping to propel positive progression within the sector.

Alternative fuels have long been a vital piece of this puzzle, but how can operators effectively manage the energy production from so-called ‘dirty fuels’? Our MD, Simon Webb, recently shared his thoughts with Energy-from-Waste Network

The concept of refuse derived fuel (RDF) and solid recovered fuel (SRF) isn’t a new one – in fact processing solid waste to create an energy source has been around for years.

However, with the interest in RDF and SRF growing across the globe, and historically ‘easy’ disposal routes either having closed their doors or increased the price for the privilege, we’re at a point now where businesses are searching for other viable ways to process waste themselves.

In the past, people have tried to use RDF and SRF in boilers which weren’t suited to combusting these kind of fuels – and this has ended with many costly failures.

That’s why it’s vital that any equipment used in the energy recovery process has been specifically designed for the fuel in question, to make the entire process a reliable and an efficient one.

Knowing what makes up the fuel

The most important thing for a site when considering using ‘dirty fuels’ is to know what is in them and to make sure that they adhere to the specification you require. Must-meet criteria typically includes moisture content, particle size, levels of contamination, ash content and calorific value – to name a few.

It’s also crucial that there are measures in place which remove items such as glass or metal, that will cause your system damage. It’s particularly important that you have a trusted fuel supplier that is aware of your requirements at the start of the partnership. It’s an unfortunate truth that some are less ‘careful’ than others, meaning undesirable, off-specification materials are often included within the fuel, and these can damage or even break your system entirely.

Often if a company is importing RDF/SRF to power their boiler, they have no option but to process what they receive – and this is where the ‘management’ of the fuel comes into play…

Outlining how you’re going to manage the fuel

Once you know exactly what the fuel is made from, knowing how to manage it represents the next consideration.

A common characteristic of waste is its variability in quality, which is why the ability to be selective – removing contamination you don’t want and blending materials, to keep the fuel as constant as possible – is a beneficial part of the combustion process.

Normally, a very manual ‘selection process’ is required to blend the fuel before it enters the furnace and when the fuel is inside the boiler, an operator will be constantly changing settings to help maintain clean and efficient combustion – on a 24/7 basis. But there are now in-furnace, ‘artificial vision’ technologies available, which enable operators to automate the combustion control activity, with greater accuracy too.

This technology continuously monitors the combustion in the furnace by observing the flame and other conditions – to regulate air flow, grate movement and fuel feed – enhancing the environment for maximum heat output and fuel efficiency, as well as reduced emissions.

This enables organisations to reap a wealth of benefits – especially where the use of variable feedstocks and operator costs are concerned.

In fact, innovative tech can help to improve the efficiency of non-homogeneous fuels by up to 10% – as well as incrementally reduce emissions and the need for human intervention. As a result, companies can generate more energy, reduce labour and eliminate any wastage from the fuel that they are putting in – which are obvious environmental and financial advantages.

Most importantly, when searching for the ‘perfect’ boiler, make sure it is designed to suit your fuel – and not the other way around. If not, this will only mean that you have expensive equipment which doesn’t do the job you truly need it to.

Looking at the upward trend

At the end of the day, when it comes to effectively managing the energy from ‘dirty fuels’, there is definitely an upward trend in industry professionals wanting to know more about the options that are out there. In fact, decentralised energy generation systems – which burn locally produced wastes – are often easier and quicker to deliver in comparison to the more centralised solutions, which can take years of planning before they’re even considered.