What Is Refuse-Derived Fuel?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2019
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Refuse-derived fuel is treated solid waste that can act as fuel in a heating or electricity generation system. Many types of treatments are available to prepare waste for burning in a variety of settings. It can be burned alongside other fuels or independently in its own power plant. This product provides a method for safe waste disposal that converts waste into energy while destroying it. Power plants and a variety of other facilities can use this technique to generate energy for their needs.

Processing is necessary to prepare waste for use as a fuel. The type of treatment needed depends on the waste and how it will be used. Typically the first step is sorting to remove materials that can be recycled or are not combustible, like glass and metals. Next, a facility may opt to treat the waste to remove harmful biological organisms, if necessary, and to eliminate contaminants that might pollute during the burning phase. Facilities also typically shred their refuse-derived fuel to prepare it for the next stage.

In some cases, the treated waste can feed directly into a kiln or boiler. The refuse-derived fuel should burn cleanly and efficiently when it is processed correctly, generating heat or energy. Another option is an intermediary step called gasification. This converts it into a more usable form, creating a cleaner burning fuel gas for use in an energy generation facility. The best option depends on the type of waste, environmental regulations, and the facility.


Firms can rely on a number of sources for waste to use in their energy generation facilities. Waste management companies are well positioned to access waste that can be suitable for this application. Other companies may accept materials for conversion into refuse-derived fuel using their own equipment. Some facilities specialize in making the product, but do not actually burn it. Instead, they ship it to other facilities in a condition that allows for immediate use.

This product is closely related to solid recovered fuel (SRF), a product made with similar processing. However, SRF is manufactured to particular specifications and will burn at a given efficiency with low pollution rates. Companies may be able to burn refuse-derived fuel or SRF, depending on their needs. The key difference between the two is the lack of specifications for refuse-derived fuel, which does not need to perform to a set standard to be usable.


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