For energy to be sustainable in South Africa, not only by increasing capacity, but also by ensuring the country is able to meet carbon tax objectives, the energy industry needs to look beyond the use of fossil fuels such as coal, and find alternative energy providing sources, says waste management company Interwaste CEO Jason McNeil.
He points out that South Africa remains in a dire energy crisis with State-owned power utility Eskom’s primary energy costs having increased by 17% recently and it requiring an additional 5 000 MW of generating capacity.
In addition, he says that considering almost 77% of South Africa’s primary energy needs are reliant on coal, there is no doubt that South Africa is heading towards not only an energy, but also an environmental crisis.
In this regard, McNeil says waste can play a significant role. “As the country moves towards a zero waste-to-landfill target and where hazardous waste-to-landfill is already prohibited, there is mounting pressure to find ways to repurpose waste. Ironically such repurposing can, and already does, contribute significantly to energy inputs at various production facilities with the opportunity to increase this fundamentally.”
As industry remains one of the largest users of energy, evident by the decrease in consumption over the past few weeks as industry was largely shuttered because of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, he says that it should be interested in the creation of alternative fuels to drive down South Africa’s reliance on traditional energy inputs.
The mining industry is a significant power consumer. McNeil says mining is responsible for more than 38% of the total industrial energy use locally.
Of course, mining is crucial as it contributes to gross domestic product and to a massive portion of exports in a normal world. It also contributes 2.44-million tonnes of marketable coal a year and makes South Africa the fifth largest coal-producing country in the world.
“It is exactly this fact that places a lot of pressure on this sector to successfully transition towards a low carbon future as well as find ways to reduce their own reliance on energy or, at the very least, ensure they are contributing towards a cleaner energy and future for other industries,” says McNeil.
WASTE TO ENERGY
Waste-derived fuels are a key contributor to the energy sector, he notes. “Hazardous waste products such as liquid sludge, hydrocarbon waste streams and petrochemical waste, can be blended into a homogenous product with defined energy, physical and chemical properties, which can then be used as an alternative fuel.”
Currently such waste-derived fuel is being sold into the cement industry as the primary offtake, but there is a strong focus on driving this to other industrial sectors.
Refuse-derived fuel (RDF) also plays a fundamental role, states McNeil. “At Interwaste, we have pioneered RDF locally and have really taken a stringent approach to ensuring we can convert as much industrial waste into this product as possible.”
RDF is a solid fuel source recovered through the shredding and bailing of certain pre-sorted dry industrial nonrecyclable waste. The RDF produced by Interwaste requires no heat for drying, produces a cleaner RDF and a higher heating value similar to that of A-grade coal and forms a suitable and robust alternative to fossil fuel use.
Such fuels can be used within sole or co-feeding plants and replace conventional fuels, such as coal, in production plants for power, steam and heat generation, cement kilns and other suitable combustion installations.
As an example of a significant waste stream stemming from a single industry, the mining industry uses a lot of rubber products, such as tyres and conveyor belts, which can be put through the RDF process by using technology to strip out the wire, remove beading of off-the-road equipment, cut in half, quarter and shred down into fine particulate size for RDF use in other industries.
Interwaste is considering a localised model of RDF where trials to convert hard hats, oily rags and overalls into an RDF equivalent.
“Beyond energy provision and finding alternatives, there is a carbon responsibility in South Africa more now than ever, with carbon tax being implemented across industries,” he says.
In addition, some of the alternative fuels are considered sustainable fuels and, therefore, McNeil says businesses that contribute to, and use, such fuels are given a 25% relief on carbon tax payable.
“The reality is that, less reliance on fossil fuels within the sector makes room for more coal for the general production of energy, reduces reliance by industry on South Africa’s energy supply and creates a solid case for the reduction of carbon emissions.
"Therefore, the more industries that can move towards alternative fuels, the better for the economy and the environment. It is a win-win all round,” he concludes.