The Lafarge cement plant in Bath, Ontario will be permitted to burn scrap tires as well as garbage such as cellulose, plastics and bone meal, in a controversial $10-million tire and waste-burning facility west of Kingston. Interestingly, Ontario’s environment ministry gave the project the go-ahead without requiring a lengthy and expensive environmental assessment. The project will have to comply with the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act.
The Loyalist Environmental Coalition — a local citizens’ group — is upset about the EA exemption, because it means that Lafarge won’t have to pay for certain studies on the socio-economic and environmental impacts. But Lafarge says it has spent $500,000 collecting data and producing studies to explain its waste-to-energy project. The company hopes to replace about 30 per cent of its coke and coal-burning fuel with refuse-derived fuel (RDF) and knock as much as $1 million off its annual energy bill.
A certificate of approval will be required before the company can start burning RDF. Assuming the government doesn’t order public hearings, the technology could be in place by next fall. The citizens’ group is concerned about the potential for high levels of lead, mercury and zinc that may exist in imported tires to escape the 30-year-old kiln. The group feels that only an EA could objectively assess the risks, and isn’t satisfied with a clean bill of health given the project by a Queen’s University professor the company hired to review the project.
The company says the RDF and process will actually improve emissions from its facility. The plant will not stockpile tires, but bring them in on an as-needed basis. Plastics and bone meal will be stored on site in silos.
Lafarge would be the first cement plant in Ontario to burn RDF an approach that is common in other jurisdictions. The Essroc cement plant in Picton, Ontario was granted permission to burn tires and RDF in 1997 but has yet to do so.
About the plant
The Lafarge plant is located on the shore of the Bay of Quinte, east of the town of Bath. It employs 114 people and produces more than two billion pounds of cement (enough to build 70 CN towers) annually.
The kiln is two storeys tall and equal in length to two football fields. Cement is heated to 1,450 degrees Celsius (25 per cent of the temperature of the sun). Each year the plant consumes the same amount of energy as the population of Lennox and Addington County.
Energy costs are climbing in Ontario and companies that consume large amounts of energy are looking for alternative feedstocks. The cement industry has sought for years to burn tires and other RDF to offset its energy costs and help dispose of society’s wastes. The industry says that the high temperature inside its kilns has a comparable and even superior destructive force to that of specially-built waste incinerators, yet avoids the high capital costs of such facilities (since the kilns are already built).
Critics say that the kilns still need special pollution control equipment and note that Ontario’s Waste Diversion Act prohibits the development of product stewardship policies that encourage burning. Ironically, a recent scrap tire stewardship proposal approved by Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) was sent back by the province because it included provisions to burn tires. However, the Lafarge project may be the thin edge of the wedge in a long term vision to allow more RDF incineration and alternative energy schemes.