To quote the old adage, beauty is in the eye of the beholder – and it quickly became a running gag among spokespeople at Alex Fraser’s Laverton North site, on 31 May.
The launch of two new, $20 million state of the art recycling plants occurred in inclement weather. It was attended by Members of Parliament, representatives of VicRoads, the Level Crossing Removal Program, Major Projects Victoria, Metro Trains, Sustainability Victoria and the Australian Road Research Board, several local councillors, personnel from research partners and universities, and Alex Fraser Group’s own customers in the civil construction industry.
It was only as official proceedings began that the sun broke through for the opening address by Alex Fraser’s managing director Peter Murphy, prompting him to hail what a “beautiful day” it was!
When Hanson Australia CEO Phil Schacht, Murphy’s boss, came to the podium, he quipped that having flown in from Sydney that morning, he wasn’t so sure: “It was glorious up there compared to Melbourne!” Nevertheless, he was in concurrence with Murphy’s opening remarks, and said the two plants were certainly “beautiful”.
When it was the turn of The Honourable Lily D’Ambrosio MP, the Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change to speak, she joined in the light banter between the Alex Fraser and Hanson executives. “It’s a very exciting day and I do think these plants are beautiful too,” she said.
The objects of the trio’s affection were a high recycled technology asphalt plant, designed and installed in conjunction with global asphalt equipment manufacturer Ammann Group, and an innovative glass recycling plant, possibly the first of its kind in the world to be able to separate contaminants from glass waste during processing.
Following years of research and development, the now fully operational plants will supply recycled roadbase, aggregates, sand and asphalt to Victorian road and rail projects. Use of these materials should also contribute to significant commercial and environmental savings across the Victorian construction materials industry – including reductions in landfills, heavy vehicle movements, and the carbon footprint of new infrastructure projects.
These plants complement a 10-year old recycling facility in the heart of the 34ha Laverton North site that has been processing up to one million tonnes per annum (tpa) of recycled concrete, asphalt and glass for use in major road projects, suburban road upgrades, level crossing removals and civil construction applications throughout Melbourne. The construction and demolition (C&D) plant continues to set records – in May 2019, it despatched more recycled products than in any other single month in its first decade of operation. It is estimated that about 50 per cent of Victoria’s recycled C&D materials originate from Alex Fraser Group’s three Victorian sites in Laverton, Clarinda and Epping.
The commissioning of the new asphalt and glass recycling plants is expected to raise the amount of recycled tonnes per year at Laverton alone by 500,000 tpa and 200,000 tpa respectively.
Indeed, across its seven facilities in Victoria and Queensland, the company’s combined output exceeds three million tpa. Alex Fraser has about 400 employees across the country, with about 118 of these at Laverton. And still these impressive statistics form merely the latest chapter in a growing company that this year celebrates 140 years of operation. Over the duration it has processed more than 50 million tonnes of recyclables in the civil construction industry.
Four million bottles a day
In 2018, the Alex Fraser story took on an extra dimension when the company was welcomed into the Hanson Australia “fold”, as part of a $210 million acquisition by Hanson’s parent company and multinational construction materials giant HeidelbergCement. At the time of purchase, both businesses were described as having “great synergies”.
“Alex Fraser was the perfect fit [for Hanson] both operationally and culturally,” Schacht said at the launch. “We were impressed by Alex Fraser’s network of sites; it is clear that we need these large-scale facilities close to metropolitan areas to achieve the best recycling outcomes.
“Today, we get a two-for-one offer with the official opening of this beautiful – and I do mean beautiful – asphalt plant behind me, and the opening of the new glass recycling plant.”
Murphy emphasised the potential contributions of the two new plants to the Victorian construction materials industry. “These plants will create the first integrated hub for sustainable construction materials,” he said. “We are taking huge volumes that used to go to landfill and supplying high quality aggregates and asphalt back into small local government projects and major infrastructure projects. The materials that come out of this hub can reduce the carbon footprint of a project by up to 65 per cent.”
The glass recycling plant is the culmination of more than a decade’s work, with the company running a smaller, pilot glass plant throughout its construction. The new plant can produce up to 800 tonnes of high specification sand per day – equivalent to four million bottles – by “dry screening” the problematic glass waste streams that are frequently co-mingled with other materials, such as paper, plastics, metals and organics.
“Our new glass recycling plant separates glass from impurities, and processes it into recycled sand, which complies with VicRoads specifications,” Murphy said. “The plant will process around a billion bottles a year, which exceeds what we all put in our wheelie bins. It helps divert material from landfill, and it helps to chew into the stockpiles and sheds full of glass around Melbourne.”
At the launch, Alex Fraser’s “Green Roads” recycled sand was on show in wheelbarrows and in small glass phials. “The end product, the recycled glass sand, provides better commercial and environmental outcomes,” Murphy said. “It directly replaces quarried sand and reduces the need for trucking virgin sand long distances into Melbourne, substantially reducing heavy vehicle movements on congested roads. It’s already used in road base, pipe bedding and its most valuable use is as the key ingredient for the asphalt plant right behind us.”
Murphy was referring to Alex Fraser’s range of sustainable asphalt mixes, including Glassphalt and PolyPave, VicRoads-registered pavement materials that utilise glass as key components in the manufacture of energy-efficient, warm mix asphalt.
Murphy told Quarry that the 875m2 glass recycling plant is a bespoke design. “We designed the plant ourselves. We haven’t found any equipment that you could buy off the shelf. We looked overseas at what worked and didn’t work. We found components we thought would work, and then we used our own recycling experience to take a bit of an educated risk and go, ‘Okay, we’ve seen that work here, we’ve seen that work there, let’s assemble these components together, in a way that no one has seen before’.”
While Alex Fraser is keen not to disclose too much about the intellectual property features of the plant, Murphy did say that it consists of crushers, two feed bins, 16 conveyors, two large screens, several magnetic separators, air knives and other sorting technology. The magnets and knives remove kerbside contaminants from the glass such as metals and plastics, including bottle tops, pen nibs and clothes pegs. The glass goes through between six and eight stages before it is crushed the first time.
Murphy added that Alex Fraser is working on further enhancements and that the plant was always designed to be maintenance-friendly. “We wanted easy maintenance access with plenty of space for our fitters so they didn’t have to climb deep into the plant. It’s more spread out than other plants. The driving factor was making a plant that’s easy to run and maintain.”
The glass plant runs on electricity. Murphy said it was designed to be “incredibly energy-efficient” and as a result it offers a lower carbon footprint because it has replaced loaders and excavators with conveyors, thereby reducing diesel consumption.
To the knowledge of Alex Fraser personnel, not only is the glass recycling plant the first licenced glass plant in Victoria, it is possibly the first of its kind globally. Murphy said the company was not aware of anyone else in the world that had developed a plant capable of separating contaminants from glass during the manufacturing process. Certainly, international observers in the past have been “gobsmacked” by Alex Fraser’s work in recycled glass sand manufacturing because it is a process that others have really struggled with. Others have, Murphy said, either developed a “low grade product in high quantities” or a “high grade product in low quantities”.
In Alex Fraser’s publicity, it was suggested that the glass recycling plant could, with its capacity to produce up to 200,000 tpa of recycled glass sand, “effectively [put] an end to glass waste stockpiles and landfill in Victoria”. Murphy qualified this statement by saying that it would depend on the extent of the glass waste stream but there was certainly the potential to “recycle more than the waste that we generate. There’s about 150,000 tonnes of waste glass generated each year, so we can recycle all of that and go some way to reducing the size of other stockpiles too”.
Alex Fraser spent 16 months building its high recycled technology asphalt plant, which can produce up to half a million tonnes of sustainable asphalt per year. At more than 40m high, the facility predominantly uses recycled glass, plastics and, of course, asphalt to produce new asphalt.
“Recycled asphalt is a very valuable product,” Murphy said. “It has a very consistent stone through it, so it can be used again instead of quarrying stone. It also has high bitumen content, which is incredibly valuable. You can reduce the amount of oil-based products needed to make new asphalt by reusing that. We process it in the [C&D] recycling plant and then we use it in the asphalt facility.”
Like its glass counterpart, Murphy said the high recycled technology asphalt plant was the result of an intensive global assessment of asphalt production technology. “We pride ourselves on quality at Alex Fraser. This plant produces high quality materials using recycled content as its main input and only supplementing with virgin materials where necessary,” he said. “A lot of asphalt made around Melbourne uses raw materials trucked from up to 100 kilometres away. Our raw materials come from 100 metres away.
“This energy-efficient plant is capable of producing high quality asphalt mixes, made almost entirely of recycled materials. Our greenest asphalt mixes, like Glassphalt, which includes recycled glass, and PolyPave, which includes recycled plastics, are being produced here to supply a multitude of projects.”
Murphy said the asphalt plant was already supplying major road projects, including Melbourne’s Western Roads Upgrade, and municipal projects in the shires of Wyndham, Yarra, and Brimbank with green asphalt mixes.
The sustainable asphalt plant is powered by electricity and natural gas, and has been designed with the means to control the ambient temperature and energy consumption during the production process.
Apart from touring the dual plant set-up, D’Ambrosio sat in the passenger seat of the truck that took the first shipment of newly recycled asphalt to a nearby Victorian road project.
She said of the plants that there was a “lot of awe and inspiration that comes out of investments such as this” and that they exemplify how Victorian industry needs to be “smarter” in the ways it procures, uses and reuses products to “extract the optimum amount of value before it’s all spent” and relieve “pressure on the natural resources that we still have”.
To that end, D’Ambrosio said the Victorian Government had invested $135 million in a bid to continue to grow Victoria’s waste, resources and recovery industries. In the next year it will also review its interim emissions targets to 2030 in a bid to maximise employment and investment opportunities in these sectors.
“Alex Fraser Group is a really important leader in showing that you can get all of these things happening – growth, jobs creation, and a lower carbon footprint,” she said. “I look forward in particular to working with the Alex Fraser Group and Hanson more broadly to understand what the economic returns of these plants will be to our state and the jobs that can come out of that as we decide on what those interim targets will be early next year.”
Murphy was in agreement with the minister. “When it comes to building greener roads, Victoria is paving the way but there is more to be done. We’re looking forward to working together with industry and government to develop the most sustainable asphalt mixes and build the greenest roads Victoria has seen.
“I’ve said many times Victoria sets a great example in terms of using recycled content, compared to other parts of the world that I’ve looked at and we’re only successful when we can engage with customers and regulators.”
It may have been a drab day for Alex Fraser’s dual plant launch but the plants were certainly the bright, “beautiful” spark that Victoria – and other states – likely need as they wrestle with the dilemmas of sustainably catering for infrastructure booms without compromising quarrying reserves. Alex Fraser’s new integrated sustainable materials supply hub, along with a string of other recycling businesses across the country, may yet provide the required value add.
“We’re trying to create a world class hub for construction materials that are sustainable,” Murphy said. “In the midst of a resources shortage, these facilities provide a significant capacity increase in the resources so urgently needed for Victoria’s big build. We have a metropolitan solution for a metropolitan problem, that reduces the carbon, congestion and cost associated with new infrastructure.”
Certainly, one of the reasons, Murphy said, Hanson Australia acquired Alex Fraser was “the opportunity to expand. These plants are a good example; the objective certainly is to grow the business further”.
Schacht echoed this sentiment. “In anyone’s view, a billion bottles each year is a significant achievement, especially when it’s recycled back into asphalt with no detriment to quality or performance,” he said.