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In a village 60 miles east of Brussels, a Belgian company is working to change the future of rubbish disposal. Group Machiels, a waste management company, has found a way to excavate millions of tons of waste that has been buried in Remo, one of Europe’s largest landfills, for many decades and repurpose it into energy and building materials.

plasmat

With enhanced landfill mining, waste is pulled out of an existing landfill, and valuable materials such as metals and other recyclable materials are separated using standard techniques. Plasma technology is then used to heat the remaining waste to high temperatures, converting the organic components (plants, wood, plastic, etc.) into a high caloric synthetic gas (syngas) and the waste minerals (polluted debris, contaminated soil, asbestos, etc.) into a slag called PlasmaRock, which is well suited for the production of building materials.

Plasma technology is already being used in several locations around the world on an industrial scale. With the potential to recycle an estimated 6 million tonnes of waste into high caloric gas and high performance slag at Remo, Group Machiels plans to transform most of the landfill site into a nature park.

This enhanced landfill mining project, known as PlasMat, eliminates the environmental and financial burden of storing waste in the ground. No waste arises from the recycling process, so the sites do not need to be monitored for contaminants from rubbish leaking into groundwater or for greenhouse gases, such as methane.

Alongside other expert partners, we were involved in the PlasMat project between 2014 and 2016. Slag samples produced in an experimental plasma reactor from the wastes of Remo landfill were tested to see if they might be repurposed into cement or geopolymer (an alkali-activated binder for building materials). Our specific role involved testing and assessing the material and environmental properties as a binder for construction materials.

Group Machiels estimates that 25% of Europe’s landfill sites can be repurposed into energy and building materials. The company is now in the process of acquiring permits to build a large-scale waste processing facility, capable of processing 100,000 tonnes a year.

The company must not only acquire permits; it must also engage investors and prove to them that extracting and repurposing waste can deliver a profitable return on their investments. It also needs to earn the social license to operate; local residents are opposed to the installation of a plasma reactor at the landfill site.

SGS Intron has been providing specialist testing, inspection and certification services to the construction industry for almost 50 years and continues to support technological innovations designed to make the construction industry more sustainable and high-tech. For example, with respect to the 3D printing of concrete, we are :

  • Partnering with Technical University Eindhoven, the Netherlands, to accurately model and analyze the structural behavior of a 3D printed concrete structure, a pedestrian bridge
  • Working with BRUIL, a Dutch producer of concrete products, to test the mechanical and durability properties of prefabricated concrete elements used for the rehabilitation of buildings
  • Working with Saint Gobain, a large building materials company, to test the mechanical and durability properties of the 3D printing premix that the company produces

Thanks to such innovations, there is much potential for the construction industry to transition away from ”take, waste and make” to processes that minimize the use of virgin raw materials, optimize the reuse and recycling of waste materials and create structures that are durable and sustainable in the long term.

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