Recycling? Problem Solvent

Posted on 8 Oct 2009 by The Manufacturer

Consolidating its market lead while enforcing best environmental practice is all in a day’s work for Solvent Resource Management Limited (SRM). As Tim Brown discovered from operations director, Tony Walmsley and commercial director, Richard Butcher.

Solvents are used in industries including chemical, pharmaceutical, agro-chemical, printers, paint production and in everyday items such as paint, cosmetics or cleaners. The solvent market has changed dramatically over the past two decades. Infamous chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were once the overwhelming solvent choice for many market segments.

Today, there are heavy restrictions on CFCs and chlorinated solvent use due to environmental concerns including ozone depletion. Over the same period, waste minimisation and sustainability have become everyday parlance and the waste hierarchy has become enshrined in environmental legislation.

Solvent recycling is very much in tune with achieving such aims and meeting these directives.

UK based Solvent Resource Management Limited (SRM) operates one such solvent recycling business. As one of the largest organic waste material recyclers in Europe, SRM processes nearly 400,000 tonnes each year, employs over 300 people on seven sites and has an annual turnover of approaching £40 million. “Our biggest product line is solvent recovery,” says Walmsley, “which involves taking in waste solvents and recovering them back to solvents that can be sold and re-used within the market as equivalent or similar to virgin products.” The company has developed rapidly over recent years through organic growth and strategic acquisition. One sign of this is the development of its European activity and SRM now employs multi-lingual agents in all the main markets in Europe.

It is committed to providing customers with a specialised waste management service in the chemical and waste-toenergy markets in which it operates. It handles material in any quantities and has the capacity to handle entire shiploads.

SRM treats waste in accordance with the European waste hierarchy and recycles or disposes of it by the best practicable environmental option. The company is committed to respecting and protecting the environment and preventing pollution.

In doing so its activities are covered by an environmental management system certified to the requirements of ISO 14001.

Impressively, the environmental advantages of engaging in solvent recycling are matched by the commercial reward. According to Butcher: “The main drivers for companies using us, as well as wanting to be environmentally friendly, is the commercial benefit. As in, they can get paid for the waste rather than having to pay to dispose of it and then we can unlock the value within that waste… in some cases up to several thousand pounds per ton.”

The recycling method encompasses a distilling process which relies on the different boiling points of the waste components to separate the different end products. According to Walmsley, the process is extremely effective and solvents can be returned to market in near virgin state for almost indefinite re-use.

“Very often there is more than just one solvent component in the waste stream that can be recycled. The distillation process separates individual components which can either be returned to the originator or sold on the open market.

We can recycle many different solvents including alcohols, hydrocarbons, acetones, acetates as well as more exotic chemicals such as tetrahydrofuran (THF), dimethylformamide (DMF), pyridine and acetic acid.” As part of Heidelberg Cement, the worldwide building materials group, SRM has access to a valuable international network of expertise and experience.

SRM’s customer service centre is based at Morecambe in Lancashire. From here it co-ordinates operations for its sites in Morecambe, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, Knottingley in West Yorkshire, Rye in East Sussex and Ketton in Rutland.

It is this connection with the cement industry that provides the second major element of SRM’s business model. The manufacture of cement and lime is very energy intensive. SRM is able to use the organic waste from its solvent recycling process to create an alternative energy substitute for use in cement and lime kilns. The substitute fuel, called Cemfuel, replaces the need to burn coal and in some cases has achieved a reduction in emissions. Not only is there an environmental benefit but in the same way as with the solvent recycling, there is also an economic benefit as the Cemfuel is a cheaper energy source than coal.

The company also incorporates two further products. Profuel is another alternative fuel for cement kilns which is made from paper and plastic predominantly from municipal inputs.

Companies take municipal waste, treat it, sort it and if it can’t be directly re-cycled, SRM can convert it into another calorific substitute alternative fuel. SRM’s sister company, MRM, runs their Alternative Raw Material program which takes minerals and inorganic materials and recycle them as alternative raw materials within the cement industry.

It is without a doubt that SRM’s active continual improvement program has contributed to their holistic and highly successful approach to recycling.

Part of the continual development and improvement in the business is demonstrably as a result of their project based approach to problem solving and the well organised project reviewing process. “Everybody is actively engaged in a continuous improvement effort,” says Butcher. “This includes top to bottom regular reviews across all operational areas of the business and all active projects are reviewed quarterly by the board of directors. Furthermore, our CI approach has been successfully adapted to meet the needs of our customers through the introduction of Stream Improvement Plans (SIPS) with many of them.”

As an environmentally sensitive and economically sensible operation, SRM demonstrates the kind of initiative that will be vital as the world moves towards a low carbon economy.

By focusing on the needs of a particular niche market, SRM have developed an effective means of contributing both to the effective operation of industries producing organic waste while also providing an effective alternative fuel for the cement industry. The company’s rapid growth is testament to its market comprehension and its future outlook is promising as the organic waste and alternative fuel markets grow and the company’s capabilities continue to expand.