The market for refuse-derived fuel (RDF) exports is nearing saturation as the market levels off, according to a leading trader.
Andusia Recovered Fuels maintains it is now harder for RDF producers entering the market to strike deals with overseas energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities because their capacities are said to be nearing their limit.
Director Stewart Brackenbury said: “We feel sorry for new RDF producers trying to get into the market because it is more difficult for them to get a foothold when plants abroad already have a relationship with people like us.
“There is a maturing of the industry now and it is levelling off as more and more people send RDF abroad. Plant capacities abroad are getting full and some facilities have their own domestic energies that they are fulfilling as well.”
He added that Andusia was confident it could get extended contracts or extra tonnages with the deals it has in place.
An Environment Agency report in July said landfill tax had been a key driver for England’s RDF export market but predicted a levelling off, with export routes becoming as expensive as sending to landfill.
The landfill tax escalator means the standard rate increased by £8 per tonne each year from 2008 to 2014, but since then the rise has been linked to match inflation.
Brackenbury also disputed a recent RDF Industry Group report that suggested exports in 2015 were higher than expected.
“The figures could include material that they have not incinerated or signed off on an R1 basis yet,” he said.
Meanwhile, waste consultancy Monksleigh said a flatlining of RDF exports may be delayed because facilities were taking longer to come on-line than expected, with some not yet commissioned.
Director Andrew Olie said: “Right now, you’ve got plants that are being built and being commissioned. Some of those will be built, some of those won’t be. More tonnage will get pulled out of landfill and some will start reversing from Europe.”
The EU recently announced a drive to redistribute waste from countries with low recycling rates to those with excess RDF processing capacity such as the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden.
It would be unlikely, Olie said, for the UK to become one of the importing nations even after the new facilities come on-line.
“After all the costs of bailing, wrapping and shipping the RDF, our gate fees would have to be very low. But if you’ve got an EfW plant that is at a port on the east coast, I suppose there is a possibility you could import some.”
Olie added that some European countries do not have the economic factors that would drive tonnage back to the UK.
Predictions within the RDF industry are believed to vary on where the export market will reach capacity, with some estimating as high as four million tonnes compared with around three million tonnes at present.
When EfW plants being built in the UK are completed, about two-thirds of their capacity is likely to be taken up by waste from local authority contracts. With this covering the plant’s costs, commercial businesses could then find them a cheaper way of sending waste for energy recovery.