PhD Research Project: CENTA NERC - Circular economy thinking: maximising opportunities for energy g

United Kingdom
Nov 30, 2016
Jan 23, 2017
Organization Type
University and College
Full Time

As envisioned by the originators, a circular economy is a continuous positive development cycle that preserves and enhances natural capital, optimises resource yields, and minimises system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows. It works effectively at every scale. Minimising waste & recovery from waste is one key component of a circular economy. Energy recovery from enriched waste materials (such as RDF) can reduce consumption of fossil fuels and meet climate change emission reduction targets. Additionally, it diverts wastes from landfill and incinerators which has obvious environmental implications. RDF typically consists of paper, plastics, textiles and other combustible materials produced after removal of glass, grit, ferrous materials, etc. from waste. RDF can be generated by mechanical plants which shred and segregate the waste or by MBT plants which in addition to shredding and sorting, treat the organic/biological fraction of the waste. MBT plants are specifically suited to enrich waste for energy recovery and to recover economically valuable recyclables from mixed waste.

RDF can be utilised as a source of fuel in co-combustion facilities, such as power plants, cement kilns, pyrolysis and gasification plants and mono-combustion facilities such as Waste to Energy (WtE) plants as a secondary fuel.
The UK exports around 2.5 Million Tonnes of RDF per year. Characterisation (both physical and chemical) of RDF from different generators is imperative to improve the utilisation of these wastes in different industrial processes, and to explore potential environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emission reductions. That is the goal of the current project.
There is no formal definition, quality standard or specification for RDF in either UK or EU legislation. However, there is a specification for Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF) as per the British Standards (BS EN 15359:2011), in terms of technical requirements (Chlorine amount), environmental requirements (Mercury emissions), and economic requirements (Net Calorific Value). Technical standards for RDF (which are envisioned to be proposed based on this project) and characterisation of RDF from different sources can help to ensure its optimum utilisation in co-combustion plants, and its re-use in the circular economy rather than loss to landfill or incineration.

Surveys to inventorise different sources of RDF production (commercial, industiral, domestic) and details of industries where RDF could be potentially used will be undertaken. Paramaters that could impact the operational porcess in co-combustion facilities will be assessed. Hence, particle size, physical form (powder and pellet), heavy metal content, moisture content and ash content will be anlaysed for the individual samples collected from different sources across the UK. For economic reasons, calorific value is key and determination of biogenic content of the RDF will help to calculate financial benefits acruing via the Renewables Obligation Certificates for RDFs produced in the UK. Chlorine (total) and water soluble chloride, Mercury, Aluminium, Suplhur, Nitrogen, other trace metals and volatile matter will be assessed which can influence the emission profile.
Characterisation results of the RDF from various MBT plants in the UK (e.g. PHS, Skansas, Biffa, Lancashire Waste and Recyling , Sita UK, and others) will be compared with the reported RDF characterisation values from EU countries, such as Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain, and correlated with pocessing steps and input waste composition profiles.

Funding Notes

In addition to completing an online application form, you will also need to complete and submit the CENTA studentship application form available from

CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.

Annual stipend, set at £14,296 for 2016/17
Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000

CENTA students are required to undertake from 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement.


ZHAO, L., GIANNIS, A., LAM, W.-Y., LIN, S.-X., YIN, K., YUAN, G.-A. & WANG, J.-Y. 2016. Characterization of Singapore RDF resources and analysis of their heating value. Sustainable Environment Research, 26, 51-54.

FELLNER, J., ASCHENBRENNER, P., CENCIC, O. & RECHBERGER, H. 2011. Determination of the biogenic and fossil organic matter content of refuse-derived fuels based on elementary analyses. Fuel, 90, 3164-3171.

GALLARDO, A., CARLOS, M., BOVEA, M. D., COLOMER, F. J. & ALBARRÁN, F. 2014. Analysis of refuse-derived fuel from the municipal solid waste reject fraction and its compliance with quality standards. Journal of Cleaner Production, 83, 118-125.

GEORGES, M. 2015. Reasonsfor trends in English refuse derived fuel exports since 2010. Environment Agency. Available at:

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