A conversation with David Retallack, Chief Technology Officer

Sustainability is a key topic within industry at the moment, with many producers looking toward greener processes to reduce their environmental impact and control emissions.

Chief Technology Officer, David Retallack, is leading research and product development across the FCT Group to ensure we can support our clients through their transitions to cleaner fuels and more sustainable practice. We ask him a few questions to learn more:


FCT has clients across many industries, including iron ore, cement, lime, pulp & paper, and minerals processing. How do you approach design for such varied applications?

At the heart of the pyro-process, across any high temperature processing industry, is the burner. The burner influences kiln output, product quality, NOx emissions, the creation of rings and cycles, and many other process factors. At FCT, we have a range of burners which can be tailored and customised to suit the firing rate, fuel mix and process heat profile requirements of our customers, with operational flexibility to adjust flame shape and control of the radiation profile to the material should conditions change.

Some common factors that many of our clients are looking for solutions to are how to improve quality, how to reduce emissions, and how to increase alternative fuel substitution. We help clients meet their environmental and sustainability targets with burners that are industry leading in terms of NOx generation and their ability to maximise alternative and renewable fuels.


Companies are increasingly adopting more sustainable approaches to production. What are some of the ways FCT helps clients throughout this process?

When making sustainable changes to the production process it is vitally important to ensure the process is still able to deliver the production output and quality without increasing fuel consumption or emissions.

FCT has built its reputation for excellent combustion outcomes on its more than 35 years combustion modelling experience. Acid/Alkali modelling has been replaced with CFD modelling which can now predict emissions, heat flux and heat transfer to the material bed. Our burner designs are optimised by the modelling process to ensure they support sustainable production methods.


And how do you see this changing in the future, with the development of new products and solutions?

Community expectations that industry use sustainable production methods are driving rapid change in many of our industries. For example, the Cement industry is on the verge of replacing cementitious additives such as flyash and slag with calcined clay which can be produced with less green house gas emissions than clinker. FCT is at the forefront of this new development with a range of technologies for Clay Calcining.

Other industries such as the steel industry are pushing forward to low and Zero CO2 emissions by embracing Hydrogen as a fuel. FCT is well placed to be part of this revolution, as we are part of a large University led research program investigating the use of Hydrogen in heavy industry.


As the Chief Technology Officer, you lead Research & Development and decide on the new products the company will bring to market. What are some of the considerations when making such important decisions?

At FCT we are market focussed and planning for the long term. The biggest consideration we take into account is how we can add value to our customers, and how we can improve their process and help them reach their goals. We are lucky to have long term relationships with our clients, giving us unique insight into the challenges they face, and we often engage in industry partnerships to find the applicable solutions.

R&D is by its nature risky and the outcome not always certain, but it is important to take input from many sources to make calculated decisions. I would say that a big factor in this is the ability to trust your team’s performance in their specialist area, which comes together as part of a bigger picture to help with decision making.

Our Sales and Marketing team pass on valuable customer feedback, trends and market insights, which helps inform where opportunities lie. Of course, we cannot pursue every potential market opportunity, so we evaluate the different opportunities to try and select those which we are confident will have long term benefits to our clients. Then, our clever and experienced Technical team endeavour to create new and unique solutions and products based on this information.


What first attracted you to specialising in combustion specifically? Does this match up with what you most enjoy in your role today?

As a graduate engineer, I joined the cement industry; an industry critical to the development of all types of construction and infrastructure. Unfortunately, it is also one of the highest emitters of CO2 and other emissions such as NOx.

When the opportunity to join FCT arose, I was interested in the possibilities of introducing leading combustion technologies to the industry which could reduce fuel consumption and NOx emissions. More than 20 years later and we are working in many more industries, but the challenges are still the same, and I enjoy being part of a team that is helping the mineral processing industries become more sustainable.


A passionate and innovative leader within the company for almost 25 years, what are some of your proudest moments?

I am  proud to have been able to watch our team grow and our business expand to all corners of the globe, now with offices in the USA, Europe, Brazil and Australia. Being part of a global team means there is a lot of specialist knowledge being shared within the Group, as our team comes from many industry-leading companies across various industries. This wealth of shared knowledge is a real asset when developing new products and solutions for our customers, as they can be confident in our shared experience and proven ability to deliver performance.

FCT was also lucky enough to be involved in the Sydney 2000 Olympics, supplying relay torches and the Stadium Cauldron lit by Cathy Freeman. Watching our hard work open the Games was a very proud moment, followed by many more at events such as Athens 2004, London 2012, Rio 2016 and many other sporting events all around the globe.