Although it may be considered novel in Canada, the use of solid fuel from waste is common in a number of places around the world, particularly in Scandinavian countries.
The growing focus on solid fuel from waste is mainly driven by a number of factors, including the move away from landfilling of waste and the potential rising costs of conventional fuels. Turning waste into a valuable heating source is something any company should at least want to investigate.
The majority of waste for solid fuel had been wood-based residue from the forestry industry (i.e., sawdust and wood chips) but the sources can include agricultural residues, industrial waste, and municipal solid waste. An ideal feedstock is relatively dry, has high energy value, appropriate particle size (i.e., no bulky material), and has no potentially toxic pollutants (e.g., heavy metals).
Three major technologies are used to convert waste to solid fuel: pelletizing, briquetting and pyrolysis.
Pelletizing and briquetting both consist of compressing material through the application of high pressure. The briquetting process typically requires less pre-processing (grinding or drying) than pelletizing. Depending on the feedstock, pelletizing may require a binding agent.
Pyrolysis involves the application of heat in the absence of oxygen to produce solid carbon residue or charcoal. Depending on the temperature used to heat the feedstock material, synthetic gas and bio-oil can also be produced.
Challenges and companies
One of the major challenges facing companies that convert waste into solid fuel is the environmental laws in some provinces. For example, under Ontario’s environmental regulation solid fuel made from waste is still considered a waste; anyone wanting to burn it would need to obtain an Environmental Compliance Approval. Regulatory changes are required to unleash the full potential of utilizing solid fuel from waste.
Another challenge for solid fuel from waste companies is the competition from conventional heating methods. The profitability of selling solid fuel from waste hinges on the price of conventional fuels used for heating (oil and natural gas). The recent recession saw lower prices for oil, and natural gas prices have been low for the past few years.
A successful company in the solid fuel from waste business is one that can at least break even processing the waste and make its profits on sales. Getting paid for the waste prior to processing it into solid fuel should be part of any business model.
Approximately 18 companies across Canada manufactures pellets or briquettes from waste feedstock. The growing number of manufacturers is a strong indication that solid fuel from waste is a potentially profitable venture.
In Nova Scotia, CCI Group Inc. manufactures wood pellets and fire logs from sawmill waste, and “agropellets” from oat residue. CCI Group distributes its solid fuel products throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.
In Quebec, Emispec, in collaboration with Therméal, has collaborated on a small-scale fuel production process that produces solid fuel from waxed cardboard boxes and other biomass. Waxed cardboard boxes are typically used to transport fresh produce and are not suitable for recycling. The 300 kg per hour production plant can produce solid fuel pellets that have an energy value 15 per cent higher than wood pellets.
In Ontario, Canadian Biofuels Inc. opened its wood pellet plant in March of 2012. The feedstock for the facility comes from wood waste generated by communities across southwestern Ontario. The annual production capacity of the facility is 22,000 tonnes. Plans are in the works to expand the facility and use agricultural feedstock in the future.
In British Columbia, Briquetting Systems Inc. (BSI) is the Canadian distributor of briquetting machines manufactured by Denmark-based CF Nielsen and Holzmag. One BSI niche line of business is the provision of hydro-cyclone briquette machines to industries that generates high quantities of dust (such as paper mills and saw mills). In the case of the Oregon Catholic Press, a major publisher location in Portland, installation and operation of a hydro-cyclone briquetting system created a profit centre (sale of briquettes for heating) from a cost centre (baghouse operation and dust disposal), saving the company $25,000 per year in waste disposal fees alone.
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org