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Top quality thermal treatment of hazardous waste

The REMONDIS SAVA hazardous waste incineration plant in Brunsbüttel plays an important role in ensuring that hazardous waste undergoes safe thermal treatment. Operating one of the most modern hazardous waste treatment plants in Europe, the company is leading the way both when it comes to environmental protection and technological development. The flue gas cleaning system is a key component of the plant’s operations. In this interview, managing director Dr Martin Kemmler provides an insight into the world of thermal waste treatment.

REMONDIS SAVA operates a hazardous waste incineration plant in Brunsbüttel. What type and what volumes of waste are accepted by the plant?

Hazardous waste from industrial firms, local authorities and remediation projects are constantly being delivered to our high temperature incineration plant in Brunsbüttel. These include, for example, chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. Pharmaceutical and infectious waste from hospitals and laboratories is also among the deliveries. And these materials arrive at our facility in all forms: as loose solid waste, as powdered mixtures or as liquid or pasty waste. What’s more, we also treat reactive waste and oils containing PCBs, in other words polychlorinated biphenyls.

The plant has a capacity of 55,000 tonnes per year – a volume that is determined by the availability of the plant and the composition of the waste we receive.

What hazardous substances are actually in the waste?
Most of the waste sent to our facility contains some kind of dangerous substance. These can range from toxic materials such as chemicals and pesticides, to contaminated substances from soils, packaging material and drums, all the way through to reactive substances such as oxidising agents and monomers. They all end up at our plant. Which is why there are a whole number of safety measures in place for our plant operations – and not just for the technology but also regarding the protection of our staff.

One of REMONDIS SAVA’s main focuses is on the way it cleans its flue gases. How does your system work and what advantages does it offer?

Our high temperature incineration plant is a complex system that is made up of a variety of different processing stations. The first stage – before the incineration process actually begins – includes a drum storage area and a tank farm. This is where the waste is stored, for example in small containers or drums, and prepared for thermal treatment. Our rotary kiln – the centrepiece of our plant – transforms the hazardous substances in the waste so they can no longer harm the environment. This is achieved by ensuring that the incineration temperature is sufficient for the type of waste being treated. The temperature here, though, must be at least 1,100°C. The emissions generated by this process are measured continuously and they are always well below the legal limits. During the thermal treatment process, the waste is slowly rotated towards the end of the kiln. The secondary combustion chamber then ensures that any remaining organic substances are completely destroyed. The following stages are there, for example, to filter out particulates, absorb heavy metals and generate electricity.

One key way of protecting the environment is to ensure that the groundwater is protected as well. We have achieved this by installing an underground layer that effectively seals off the whole of the area under the plant. Water is not actually needed to operate the incineration plant itself. A sophisticated air extraction system prevents odour emissions escaping from the facility.

What are the main challenges when it comes to cleaning the flue gases?

The biggest challenge for cleaning flue gases is ensuring that our emissions meet the legal limits laid down in the 17th Ordinance of the Federal Emissions Control Act – in German, the so-called ‘17. Verordnung zur Durchführung des Bundes-Immissionsschutzgesetz’. The whole process, therefore, has to be controlled very carefully and the different stages must be perfectly coordinated. Different quantities and qualities of waste are fed into the incineration plant, which means that the flow rates have to be adjusted accordingly.

What rules and laws regulate the flue gas cleaning process?

The main law that we have to factor in when operating our seven-stage flue gas cleaning system is the 17th Ordinance of the Federal Emissions Control Act. We must continuously check our emissions to ensure that we always meet the emission limits set out in SAVA’s permit. Ongoing measurements are taken, for example, to check the levels of particulate, carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx), hydrogen chloride (HCl) and mercury (Hg). Intermittent measurements are also taken to check levels of hydrogen fluoride (HF), heavy metals, dioxins, furans and benzo(a)pyrene.

The public tend to be critical of hazardous waste incineration plants. When and why was the plant built and what hurdles did REMONDIS SAVA have to overcome?

Local residents began a campaign soon after the company was founded and the plans for the plant were made public. Their aim was to prevent the SAVA facility from being built. Legal action was then taken against SAVA after the authorities had processed our planning application at the beginning of the 90s. However, the action group running the campaign and SAVA’s management team (at that time a joint venture between RWE with a 66.6% share and E.ON with a 33.3% share) succeeded in reaching an out-of-court settlement: SAVA agreed that its emissions for most of the parameters that have to be continuously measured would be 50% lower than the limits set out in the 17th Ordinance of the Federal Emissions Control Act. REMONDIS SAVA has always succeeded in achieving this, which is why it is the only high temperature incineration plant in the world to have such low emission values.

What’s more, as part of the negotiations, SAVA agreed to the action group being present at the intermittent annual measurement process (primarily to check levels of heavy metals, dioxins and furans) so that they could see the results for themselves. Each time, REMONDIS SAVA and the representatives would then sit down to discuss the results together. This procedure went on for years with the action group becoming more and more willing to accept the facility. The technology used by SAVA has always been excellent and the company has run a transparent business throughout, letting people see its documents when requested. The action group has now been disbanded and the members no longer supervise the operations. The company, however, still remains on good terms with the former members. This is a real success story that can be put down to honesty, transparency, state-of-the-art technology and good business management.

What role does sustainability play at REMONDIS SAVA? (e.g. recycling, recovering raw materials)

Sustainability is playing an ever bigger role in the economy and society as a whole. The same is true, of course, for the REMONDIS Group and REMONDIS SAVA GmbH. Right from the moment the incineration plant was commissioned in 1997, the most has been made of the heat from the incineration process by using a turbine to transform the steam into electricity. Some of this electricity is fed into the national grid and some of it is used by the plant itself. Magnets are used to remove any scrap steel from the incineration bottom ash. Both products can then be sent on for reuse.

What’s more, REMONDIS SAVA has carried out a whole range of remediation projects in Europe, Africa and Asia. Our goal here is always to use environmentally sound processes to eliminate and dispose of hazardous substances, such as persistent organic pollutants or POPs, that are unable to degrade in the biosphere and can only be destroyed with thermal treatment.

REMONDIS SAVA has also been collaborating with a partner company over the last five years. Together, we have succeeded in developing a process that enables iodine to be extracted from the incineration plant’s flue gases and to be concentrated so that it can be supplied to the chemical industry as a secondary raw material. This is a perfect example of materials recycling – and totally in line with the objectives of the circular economy – and has already been tested in a pilot plant at the site. The goal now is to put it into practice. We are, therefore, currently planning an iodine recovery plant that should be able to recover 30,000 to 50,000kg of iodine from the waste when it is up and running properly. We expect this facility to be commissioned next year in 2021. The German state of Schleswig-Holstein is supporting REMONDIS SAVA’s plans. Iodine is an essential element that is needed, for example, in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries as well as in the agricultural sector as a feed supplement. 

Thank you for the interview! Do you have any questions on the subject?

Dr. Martin Kemmler
T +49 4852 83 08 62  
F +49 4852 83 08 12 

REMONDIS Industrie Service GmbH & Co. KG