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Deadly asbestos is rendered harmless

Technology that can treat asbestos waste and turn it into a non-hazardous aggregate product for use in construction has been acquired by Essex-based Windsor Integrated Services Group (WISG), which offers products and services in the waste sector.

Tony Windsor, managing director, says: “This technology will set a worldwide precedent for managing asbestos waste. We are hugely excited by the opportunity that this acquisition brings our group, and are talking to investors and feedstock sources which are keen to participate in the numerous benefits of this clean technology.”

The technology – not incineration – uses a fluxing agent to form a chemical reaction, meaning the amount of energy required to treat the waste is significantly reduced compared with vitrification. It destroys the asbestos fibres and reduces the volume of material put in by 50-90%.

“What comes out is a non-hazardous mineral similar to volcanic rock, like an aggregate,” commercial director Jeff Letch explains. “It could be used in many applications, such as within concrete, meaning the [waste] material can be reused.”

Asbestos waste is classed currently as hazardous if it contains more than 0.1% asbestos. It must be double-bagged and placed in covered, locked skips before onward transportation to a landfill permitted to take it. Figures from the Environment Agency show that more than 210,000 tonnes of fibrous and cement bonded asbestos is landfilled each year in the UK. Before the recession, the figure was around 300,000 tonnes a year.

The WISG solution has been welcomed by the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA). Chief executive Steve Sadley says: “We are excited to see this more environmentally responsible and cost-effective way to treat asbestos become a reality, stopping waste going to landfill and turning it instead into a harmless product that can be recycled.”

While Letch explains that the motivation for seeking out the technology was to find a morally better and more sustainable solution for asbestos than landfill, the increase in landfill tax, which currently stands at £80 per tonne, has made the alternative technology much more economically viable than when the business first looked at the issue in 2005. On cost, the treatment is on a par with landfill.

The aggregate-like output could potentially be sold. Due to the volume-reducing nature of the technology, for every tonne of material fed into the system only 100kg of aggregate comes out. No other outputs are produced.

The technology was developed in the US, where a small R&D facility was increased to a 15 tonnes a day operation. WISG has all the data from the US plant’s operation for a six-year period, during which time it successfully treated asbestos by the US Department of Defense, Department of Energy and the Environment Protection Agency, as well as private firms. The acquisition has seen WISG take global control of the technology through a new company called ARI Global Technologies.

Letch says WISG has the capacity to build three systems in the first year and is in talks with four other countries about use of the technology. It is interested in exploring licensing opportunities within the UK as well as overseas. For interested parties, it would sell a licence and assist with the set up.

While it will not give away any locations for its first site in the UK because it is considering three or four options, Letch says the plan is “to have a spade in the ground in September/ October”, with a view to having its first facility up and running in summer/autumn 2016.

Within WISG sits Windsor Waste Management, the founding company. It has a significant share of the UK asbestos disposal market in the south, collecting more than 15,000 tonnes of the material each year. Its first plant will have the capacity to treat either 50-100 tonnes a day. Asbestos waste collections will simply be diverted to the new plant – and away from landfill.

  • An open day is planned for spring to showcase the technology. Interest can be registered by emailing info@ariglobaltech.com

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