The first plant in the UK to convert municipal solid waste into solid recovered fuel (SRF) has been opened by the minister for farming, food and marine environment.
George Eustice said of Swindon Borough Council’s £6m plant: “It is really exciting that Swindon is leading the way on this. SRF is a high grade fuel.”
He said there is a great emphasis on recycling, but “with waste that is left, energy-from-waste is the best way to go.”
The plant has a capacity of 100,000 tonnes of waste a year and will reduce the council’s reliance on landfill by 98%.
Before the plant opened, between 150-200 tonnes of waste were sent to landfill every day, which cost taxpayers in Swindon £3m a year.
Around £250,000 of metal were also dumped in wheelie bins by residents each year.
The new plant separates the recyclates before turning the remaining waste into refuse derived fuel (RDF).
Giant driers will be used to dry the waste so it becomes SRF, which has a higher calorific value than RDF and burns more easily at a higher temperature. These driers will be installed by the end of March.
After the opening, Eustice told MRW: “It’s a shame they have to export the SRF bales, because of the environmental and financial costs of sending them to Germany and Holland.”
He called for larger industrial biomass plants in the UK using combined heat and power to adapt to using SRF.
He said this would be better environmentally as waste would otherwise go to landfill and purpose-grown biomass takes up agricultural land.
Sean McGee, head of waste solutions at Swindon Commercial Services, which runs the plant, said: “In the short to medium term we have to pay power stations to take our baled RDF and later SRF, but it’s much cheaper than the tax on putting waste into landfill.
“The priority is to deal with municipal waste, from Swindon and possibly neighbouring authorities. We’re expected to show a saving on the cost of disposing waste after repaying the investment within eight years.”
Canadian company Machinex assisted with design and installation of the technology.
Former WRAP director of local government services Phillip Ward questioned whether the plant might turn into a ‘white elephant’ for Swindon as currently the authority sends 75,000 tonnes of waste to landfill, below the plant’s capacity.
In response, James Owen, SCS commercial director, said: “With regards the spare capacity we built a 100,000 tonne unit precisely to capture additional waste streams.
“We already have letters of intent from external sources to more than fill the plant and it is only our own cautious approach to ramping up the operation that is acting as a throttle on the volumes we process.”