- Ashok Dembla, President & MD of Humboldt Wedag India Pvt Ltd
Tell us more about the NCB event.
This is the forum where we meet all the technocrats from the cement industry and exchange on the new developments. The papers presented in the seminar are very informative. The session on alternative fuels and raw materials (AFR) is the talk of the day when we are discussing about the low carbon footprint. Everybody has accepted that AFR is the solution, it is available but how to bring it to plant at right price is an issue. Government bodies and other stakeholders have to do their bit. After implementation of GST, situation has slightly improved.
Today we expect synchronisation among all the bodies to support the cause. Agricultural wastes like coconut shell, rice husk, etc. are in use for long time since they are relatively easy to use. Even Plastichas been accepted well but we need a shredder to get it to smaller size before using. Even in case of hazardous industrial waste corporates have accepted their responsibility and are even prepared for incurring cost for correct disposal. The first is segregation of waste and then making it in usable form. If the end use is in the radius of 100 km range, then the cost of transportation is not an issue but beyond that it is a problem.
The big question is of municipal solid waste (MSW) and refuse-derived fuel (RDF). Some agency needs to prepare it, separate it and convert it in usable form. The cement industry should find it comparable to the cost of primary fuel they are already using. The municipal corporations may think of levying some tax on the residents for processing of the waste, and making it available to cement plants within 100 km range.
A few cities in southern States have already started processing their municipal waste. What is your take on this?
Yes. In Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh where cement plant is located in distance of 100 to 200 km from cities, municipal waste is sent to cement plants. Distance is not really a problem in these cases. But whereas in place like Delhi or Mumbai when there is no cement plant nearby; where the waste will go? The question of responsibility also comes here. The citizens should feel accountable for segregation of waste, providing waste to the right agency and paying for the processing of the waste. We must realise that there is no alternative.
Is your company in the role of providing services for managing waste?
My company in Germany has four different technologies on hand. I shall talk about two. The latest one is called pyro-rotor. It is a small rotary kiln where only gases are sent to the system. Material in the form of particles up to 200 to 250 mm in size can be used like wood waste, plastic waste and rubber tyre waste. Right now, it is working at one location and we have two more orders in hand.
Before this, we had a combustion chamber where the size to be processed was up to 75 mm and below materials like agro waste, wood waste or tyre chips but up to 50-75 mm size. It is in operation at five to six locations in Europe.
The other technologies are calciner extension and burner suitable for firing waste, without increasing the pollutants, as fuel is already with us for long time. Regarding preparation of waste, we don't have our own technology, but we get it outsourced from others. We have a good knowledge about processing of waste in the kiln.
What about the modifications in the burner for feeding AFR?
We can design a burner to consume up to 80 per cent of replacement fuel. The feeding of AFR can be done through central pipe. While modifying the burner; firstly we have to ascertain how much waste we are going to get and process on continuous basis and how much we would like to process? There is a provision of routing the waste through the central feed pipe. Any burner for that matter can be modified to accept waste based on the first two questions I have raised.
How is the business environment right now with specific reference to liquidity crunch?
After elections in May 2019, a couple of projects have been declared but a very few of these have taken off while others are still on papers. For mega corporates like UltraTech and LafargeHolcim, decisions have been taken but in the case of smaller companies they are finding it difficult to raise finance. The companies that depend on borrowed money, the start of projects are affected.
How does this situation impact you and other similar players?
For running the business of design, engineering and machinery supply, we need a certain set of manpower which is essential. This manpower is having expertise in their own field, when we reduce the manpower means we reduce our expertise. In order to retain the manpower, sometimes the pressure comes on pricing which is occasionally too much to bear. If experienced people are not involved in negotiations then at times, we have to compromise with the variable cost and have to accept the order at minimal price to continue the business. It is a mismatching of the set up cost v/s business done.
In the present situation, the manpower cost is higher than the business you are able to generate. That brings us to the price pressure, which we try to pass on to our suppliers and further down. Now in the process who takes a wrong decision, lands up into a problem. That is the reason many small vendors have become bankrupt. It is a vicious circle.
How you expect year 2020 to be?
We are seeing the signs of improvements. Especially in case of large players like Shree Cement, Dalmia Cement, Chettinad Cement Kallur plant and JSW Shiva Cement, etc. have a definite plan to expand but the speed at which they are moving is slower. We are hopeful of getting orders and I think year 2020 will be better than 2019.
Kindly share more on emission controls.
The norms with respect to dust emissions and noise level are perfect. Regarding SOx and NOx, the plants have to invest money. On the other hand, technology for these emissions is also developing. KHD has a technology where without using ammonia we can reduce NOx. Nearly 5 million Euros are required to be invested in the existing plant. On the other hand price of cement is sluggish. Therefore the plants are requesting for more time. Look at China where they implemented controls on SOx and NOx but the authorities saw that the price of cement is sufficient enough to absorb the cost.
A timeframe of two to three years was given to set up a new plant compliant with SOx and NOx regulations. But in democratic set up like India you cannot do that.
What about your business outside India?
We have been doing some upgradation jobs in China where these existing plants are having problems. In terms of production, electrical energy efficiency and thermal energy, these plants need improvement. We are working with them to resolve the problems. We are working in Nepal and Bangladesh.
Nepal is a very tight market price wise and Bangladesh has a good potential for grinding units. We are also active in Philippines with CRH group. Being in India and spreading our business to outside countries, we are able to extend our footprint.
Nepal is a very tight market price wise and Bangladesh has a good potential for grinding units.