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  • Dear Readers!

    Whilst the energy transition “experiment” continues unabated in Germany and the large energy providers find themselves in a difficult situation as they try to find out exactly what their main business now is, REMONDIS – as a consumer – has been taking action and has come up with some innovative solutions to tackle the energy problem. We have, for example, succeeded in considerably reducing energy consumption at our dismantling centre for waste electrical and electronic equipment at the Lippe Plant in Lünen by introducing a new energy management system. Whereas, in the past, it had only been possible to see how much energy the plant was consuming as a whole, a new software system – developed by the company itself – now enables the ­consumption of each individual piece of equipment and each individual light to be recorded. One of the responses to the results generated by this new system was to exchange all the lights in the plant with state-of-the-art LEDs. This has led to more light with fewer carbon emissions and lower costs and this idea is catching on across the whole of the group. This is what we at REMONDIS believe the energy transition to be.

    REMONDIS continues to enjoy healthy growth and not only in its home region of North Rhine-Westphalia. Our family-owned company has been expanding in the countries which are on its list of “core regions”. These include, for example, neighbouring countries such as Poland to the east and the Netherlands to the west. The Dutch recycling firm, van ­Gansewinkel, recently sold its Polish operations to ­REMONDIS. Furthermore, REMONDIS acquired the business locations and activities of the Becker Group in the south of Poland. Thanks to these latest transactions, we have succeeded in expanding our range of services for our Polish customers and strengthening our position on the Polish market – one of the company’s so-called core markets. At the time of going to press, we also received the good news that our Dutch subsidiary has taken over the Dusseldorp Group. This will considerably grow REMONDIS Nederland’s operations in the Dutch recycling sector.

    According to the Federal Office for National Statistics, the total debt of the local and district authorities in Germany lay at around 140 billion euros at the end of 2014 – and this figure is likely to rise. Some councils, however, are of the opinion that they can solve this problem by remunicipalising services that, they believe, fall into the category of “vital public services”. To be able to do this though they must spend large sums of money on setting up the necessary infrastructure – an infrastructure that private sector firms already have in place and which they could offer far more cost-effectively. We know from experience that the best solution is to work together as partners, as can be seen in the City of Freiburg in the Breisgau region. The PPP model continues to be a practicable solution that unites the two worlds in the best possible way and brings the most benefits for the regional economy and the local inhabitants.

    The arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Germany to escape from their war-torn homelands will mean greater challenges as well as some great opportunities for our ­country and local authorities. Let us work together in a spirit of optimism and confidence to create a better future for ­everyone living in our country. REMONDIS is there as always to help and advise its municipal partners. 

    Yours

    Ludger Rethmann

Pilot facility in Hamburg

When, in 1669, the German pharmacist and alchemist Henning Brand carried out an experiment on urine in an attempt to find the philosopher’s stone, he discovered a substance that glowed in the dark. He decided to call this powder 'phosphorus' from the Greek, meaning the ‘bringer of light’. Brand had unknowingly discovered one of the fundamental elements vital to all living organisms. Phosphorus compounds are a key part of our DNA, which carries our genetic code. Moreover, phosphorus is essential for both growth and energy metabolism. In other words: no phosphorus – no life. REMONDIS Aqua has joined forces with HAMBURG WASSER and built a pilot facility that is able to recover this precious substance from sewage sludge ash.

The challenge of recycling phosphorus

The bad news first: this substance is gradually running out. Whilst around 0.09 % of the Earth’s crust is made up of phosphorus compounds, it is only technically and/or economically practicable to mine just a fraction of this. Phosphorus occurs almost exclusively as a compound in nature, as phosphate or phosphoric acid, and can also, for example, be found in sewage sludge. For many years, therefore, farmers have been putting sewage sludge on their fields to improve their crops. The German government, however, wishes to put a stop to this practice as, unfortunately, the sewage sludge not only releases this valuable substance into the ground but many pollutants, too, such as heavy metals. The demand for high quality fertiliser is growing but phosphoric acid is needed to produce phosphate fertiliser and high quality animal feed – two products that are vital for the agricultural industry. For a long time now, scientists across the world have been looking to find cost-effective ways of recycling phosphorus – an essential nutrient for all living organisms – as reserves of this natural resource are gradually being used up. The demand for phosphoric acid in Europe alone lies at over 1 million tonnes a year.

Phosphorus is vital to all ­living organisms – and natural reserves of this substance are gradually being depleted.

Now for the good news: REMONDIS Aqua has developed a novel process that can provide established supply chains with phosphorus as a high quality secondary raw material – closing the material life cycle of this vital substance. It does this by recovering a pure form of phosphoric acid from the ash of incinerated sewage sludge.

Sewage sludge ash: a raw material

This new process to recover phosphates was developed by chemists in the laboratory and now, thanks to the strong cooperation work between HAMBURG WASSER and ­REMONDIS, it is to be tested and optimised under ideal conditions at a pilot facility set up close to VERA Klärschlammverbrennung. VERA is a public private partnership owned by HAMBURG WASSER (60 %) and REMONDIS (40 %). For many years now, the two companies have been working together successfully in the area of sewage sludge incineration. The sewage sludge from Hamburg and neighbouring sewage treatment plants is thermally treated and used to generate energy. The leftover sewage sludge ash is now to be used as a valuable raw material for recovering phosphorus.

The goal is to build a large-scale plant

  • Tests will now be run over the coming months to work out the best configuration for the new facility. “If everything goes to plan, then REMONDIS and HAMBURG WASSER should be able to build a large-scale plant and recover several thousand tonnes of phosphoric acid every year,” commented Dr Martin Lebek during the official opening of the pilot facility in July 2015. Hamburg’s Senator for the Environment, Jens Kerstan, was really pleased to see that cost-effectiveness and environmental protection really can go hand in hand: “It’s great to see this process being tested out in Hamburg. Phosphorus recycling helps protect the environment – and makes good business sense as well."

    (from left to right) Michael Beckereit, managing director of HAMBURG WASSER, Jens Kerstan, Senator for the Environment Hamburg, and Dr Martin Lebek, project manager and managing director of REMONDIS Aqua, show the materials produced by recycling the phosphoric acid during the official opening of the pilot plant

Recycling with a whole list of benefits

  • The RePacid® phosphoric acid recovered during this process is free of heavy metals making it a perfect source material for producing fertiliser and animal feed. However, this method not only generates phosphoric acid from the ash. It also creates gypsum for the building supplies trade and iron and aluminium salts which can be returned to sewage treatment plants to be used as a precipitating agent to treat wastewater and eliminate phosphorus. REMONDIS’ TetraPhos® process is, therefore, not only extremely eco-friendly, efficient and cost effective, it also helps to conserve our planet’s natural resources. It closes material life cycles, protects our fields, rivers and lakes and helps to reduce Europe’s long-term dependency on phosphate imports.

Background information

  • Josef Lehmkuhl was the brains behind this novel process. Josef Lehmkuhl worked as Head of Research & Development at the REMONDIS Lippe Plant and continued to work in an advisory capacity after he retired from full-time work. During this time he made a name for himself among his peers, especially in the areas of aluminium chemistry and phosphorus recycling. It was primarily thanks to him and his fascination for research that this idea made it off the drawing board and has been turned into a cost-effective process with a promising future. Unfortunately, Josef Lehmkuhl passed away unexpectedly on 04 April 2015. The plant, which will show that phosphoric acid can be recovered cost effectively from sewage sludge ash on an industrial scale, is now being managed by his colleague and co-researcher, Dr Martin Lebek from REMONDIS Aqua. 

    Josef Lehmkuhl

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