Alternative Fuels Catching On

Cement Companies Seek Ways To Reduce Fuel Costs

October 20, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

Union Bridge-area residents aren't alone in their fight against waste burning.

Across the country, groups with acronyms for names haveformed in towns with cement plants.

Aquadale, N.C., has SCOTCH -- Stanly Citizens Opposed to Toxic Chemical Hazards. Bath, Pa., has CASE -- Citizens for a Safe Environment. In LaPorte, Colo., citizens are publishing a newsletter called "Concrete Facts."

About 25 of the 125 cement plants across the country now burn hazardous wastes in their kilns; some 25 others are considering it, an industry publication reported.

Burning wastes allows cement companies to save money on fuel bills, one of their largest operating costs.

The cement industry now burns four times as much liquid hazardous waste annually as commercial hazardous-waste incinerators, Environmental Information Digest reported last year. The digest,based in Minneapolis, is part of Environmental Information Ltd., a research and publishing company for the hazardous-waste industry.

Lehigh Portland Cement Co. was the first of the three cement companiesin Maryland to apply to the state to burn hazardous waste.

In late August, company officials said they decided not to burn hazardous waste because it was not economical. They said they may reconsider thedecision, but probably not in the next couple of years.

Plant Manager David H. Roush said he couldn't say how much money the company expects to save if it burns wastes. The company has an estimate but doesn't want its competitors to read it, he said.

Lehigh officials also have applied to burn a carbon waste, which they say is not hazardous.

The state, however, said the carbon could be hazardous and denied Lehigh permission to burn it. Lehigh appealed the decision; a hearing is pending.

Holnam Inc., the largest cement company in the United States, estimates it saves about 20 percent on fuel costs at its two plants that burn alternative fuels. The company has 15 plants in all.

At Holnam, based in Dundee, Mich., sales in 1990 were $1.1 billion, said Stuart Kirvan, manager of corporate public relations.

The company has burned hazardous wastes -- solvents, cleaners and other products "you'd find under the kitchen sink" -- at its plant in Holly Hill, S.C., for four years, Kirvan said.

In Clarksville, Mo., the company has burned the same type of materials for two or three years, he said.

Only one other Holnam plant burns an alternative fuel, but it's not considered hazardous. The Seattle plant has burned shredded tires for a couple of years, Kirvan said.

Burning wastes in cement kilns lowers the cost of cement production and reduces consumption of fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, says the Cement Kiln Recycling Coalition, a Washington-based association of about 30 companies.

It also reduces the distance required to transport hazardous wastes, because almost every source of waste in the United States is within 300 miles of a cement plant, the group says.

Cementmade with hazardous waste as a fuel is no different than other cement, says the Portland Cement Association in Washington. The waste is burned and becomes part of the product, officials say.

But at leastone cement customer is studying the process to make sure hazardous wastes don't leach when concrete made from the cement comes in contactwith water.

Price Brothers Co., based in Dayton, Ohio, buys cement to make concrete water, sewage and drainage pipes.

The company won't buy cement for which hazardous waste has been used as a fuel until an extensive testing program is complete, said Lee E. Stockton, vice president of technology. The company's study should be finished later this year.

The company, which employs about 1,300 people, had used cement from plants where hazardous wastes were burned and had noproblems, Stockton said. But after the environmental group Greenpeace raised questions, he said the company decided to do an independent study.

"We're taking a super-confident position," he said.

Maryland has two companies producing cement in addition to Lehigh -- one in Frederick County and one in Washington County. Both burn waste oil, as Lehigh does, and company officials say they also are interested in burning hazardous wastes.

Bruce E. Ballinger, plant manager at Essroc Materials Inc. in Lime Kiln, said the Frederick County plant has been burning waste oil since 1986.

"Every cement company worth its salt is looking into alternative fuels" because it is cost-effective and a benefit to the environment, he said.

Essroc has two kilns and produces 370,000 tons of cement a year, Ballinger said.

The company is looking into burning hazardous wastes there, said Edwin C.Colwell, vice president and general manager of Essroc's Eastern Division in Bath, Pa. Essroc owns six cement plants, one of which -- in Logansport, Ind. -- is burning hazardous liquid solvents, Colwell said.

Independent Cement Corp. in Hagerstown has been burning waste oil for about a year, Plant Manager Gary R. Batey said. The company hasone kiln and produces about 500,000 tons of cement a year.

Independent is interested in burning Washington County refuse as a fuel, which wouldn't be considered hazardous, he said. The company also is considering burning hazardous waste solvents and has been watching how Lehigh is faring with its efforts to get approval from the state and community, he said.

"We've learned the biggest challenge to doing this is educating the public," Batey said.

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