Turning Waste Into Fuel: How Co-Processing Addresses the Nation’s Waste Management Crisis

Despite the passage of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA No. 9003), solid waste management remains a major challenge in the country due to improper waste disposal, inefficient waste collection, and the lack of disposal facilities. The waste generated per day in the Philippines has steadily increased from over 37,000 tons in 2012 to over 40,000 tons in 2016. 1

The rise in the country’s waste generation is due to the rapid population growth and developments in urban and rural areas. Metro Manila recorded an average of over 9,000 tons of waste per day.2 Of this, only 85% of the solid waste in Metro Manila is collected and brought to landfills or dumpsites, while the remaining 15% of uncollected waste mostly end up in waterways and bodies of water. 1

Since the early 2000s, Republic Cement has provided an alternative waste management solution through the use of various qualified wastes as alternative fuel for its cement production. This is done through a method called cement kiln co-processing.

Through Republic’s co-processing arm, ecoloop, partnerships with organizations in the public and private sectors are forged to divert these residual wastes away from landfills and waterways. More than 15 LGUs have started using co-processing as a means of waste management. In the private sector, Republic has partnered with FMCGs to also help address the plastic pollution crisis through capturing pre- and post-consumer waste.

Co-processing 101

Co-processing is the reuse or recovery of thermal and mineral properties of qualified waste materials. Through co-processing and the use of waste, such as plastic or rice husk, as alternative fuels, Republic is able to manufacture cement with reduced dependence on fossil fuels, such as coal.

Co-processing also provides a viable waste management option in a single combined operation. Optimally operating at 1450°C, co-processing completely destroys the qualified waste-turned-fuel. This means that any waste by-products, such as ash, are fully integrated into the microstructures of the clinker, a key ingredient of cement. Upon exiting the kiln, the main cement production chamber, the clinker is quenched and quickly cooled, ensuring complete stability without any other ash residues. Any noxious gases produced are also completely controlled because of the gas and material counterflow within the cement kiln and pollution control devices.

Why Co-processing?

In the waste management hierarchy, methods such as prevention, minimization, and recovery of materials through recycling and re-using are still preferred over co-processing. However, when these options are no longer available, co-processing remains preferred over unsustainable methods such as incineration, chemical and physical treatment of waste, and landfilling.

Co-processing is distinct from incineration. With incineration, there is a higher chance of noxious gases being released into the atmosphere versus being contained within a cement kiln. Also, there is a remaining 30% that is turned into ash, a waste by-product, which still ends up in landfills. Some incineration methods are purely for disposal without any energy or material recovery aspects as well.

Similar to incineration, chemical and physical treatment produces by-products such as ash and treated waste that still need to be responsibly and environmentally disposed of in landfills. On the other hand, landfilling produces leachate, a highly toxic substance that can pollute land, ground water, and water ways. The decomposition of waste in the landfill also produces greenhouse gases.

Better for the environment

“As long as it is deemed acceptable for co-processing and acceptable under the guidelines issued by the DENR through DAO 2010-6, co-processing should be prioritized over other disposal methods that are more harmful to the environment in the long run,” shared ecoloop Director Angela Edralin-Valencia.

Co-processing of qualified wastes also promotes the conservation of non-renewable energy sources and raw materials. The recovered heat content from the qualified wastes partially replaces the heat from traditional fossil fuels such as coal and petcoke. Further, recovered minerals similar to the chemical composition of sand and clay replace raw materials used in cement production.

“Republic is proud to do its part in providing a viable waste management solution while continuously working towards a greener and more sustainable cement manufacturing process,” said Republic Cement CEO Nabil Francis. “Through this, we are confident that we are on the right path in moving towards a greener, stronger Republic.”

Footnotes: 1 Senate Economic Planning Office (SEPO) 2016 Report 2 DENR-NCR 2019 Infographic on Average Waste Generation in MM

#coprocessing #ecoloop