Lafarge tackles hurdles to refuse-derived fuels production in Egypt

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Encouraging news from Egypt with the announcement that Lafarge Ecocem has taken on two refuse-derived fuels (RDF) contracts in Suez and Qalyubeya. The RDF plants will have production capacities of 42,000t/yr and 280,000t/yr respectively, after upgrades are built.

The move follows a deal Lafarge struck with Orascom in March 2015 to develop a waste management framework of municipal and agricultural waste. The plan is to achieve an average fuel substitution rate of 25% by the end of 2015. Around the same time Ecocem also signed a cooperation agreement with the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) and the Qalyubeya Governorate to upgrade a recycling plant in Qalyubeya to produce RDF. Part of the deal was intended to reinvest some of the revenue from RDF sales back into the region's waste collection infrastructure.

These production levels compare to SITA UK's new RDF plants in the UK, which has a more mature RDF market. There, the newly opened Malpass Farm plant is planned to produce 200,000t/yr and the Tilbury plant will have an output capacity of 500,000t/yr when it opens. However, the Malpass Farm plant mainly feeds one cement plant, the 1.3Mt/yr Cemex Rugby plant with a mean substitution rate of 61% in 2013. By contrast, Lafarge Cement Egypt runs the massive 10.6Mt/yr El Sokhna plant.

Co-processing at El Sokhna by Lafarge is of particular interest given the links with Egypt's unofficial household waste collectors, the Zabbaleen. Lafarge Egypt recruited and trained 140 Zabbaleen to gather waste material for RDF production. The strategy enabled Lafarge to gather continuous supplies of RDF and strengthen local stakeholder relations, as Lafarge's 2013 sustainability report puts it. Lafarge Egypt's substitution rate was 2.2% in 2012 with significant improvements made since then. The current target of 25% for the end of 2015 shows how much progress Lafarge has made.

Hisham Sherif of the Egyptian Company for Solid Waste Recycling (Ecaru) placed Egypt's municipal solid waste level at 20Mt/yr at a presentation given at the Global CemFuels Conference earlier in 2015. From this 4Mt/yr of RDF could be produced. Together with biomass derived fuel (BDF) Sherif reckoned that the country's cement plants could reach substitution rates of 30 – 40%. Problems though with increasing RDF rates in Egypt include legal complexities, institutional issues, poor services and monitoring and centralised planning with little regard for the country's unofficial waste pickers, such as the Zabaleen.

Lafarge Ecocem appears to be tackling each of these problems in turn as the deals with Orascom and th