Energy for the future

Written by: Editorial staff | Published:
Greatmoor EfW facility which hosted the EfW 2017 Conference site visit

RWW reports from the EfW 2017 Conference, where some of the sector’s leading figures discussed the big issues and developments, from the impact of Brexit to innovations in municipal waste treatment

Kicking off the EfW 2017 Conference that took place in London last month, Professor Margaret Bates, CIWM president, tackled head on the elephant in the room that is Brexit and all things European.

“Energy from waste has grown, but not as quickly as other aspects and we still have the niggling issue about exports,” she said. “I personally think we should not need to export over three million tonnes of refuse-derived fuel (RDF), instead we should take it and deal with it here. Why are we exporting? My argument is that the economics should not stack up to encourage companies to export RDF.”

Bates pointed out that the EU Commission agrees that dedicated incineration capacity for municipal waste is unevenly spread in the EU and that Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy and the UK account for three quarters of the EU’s capacity.

“Data is always going to be a problem for this sector. I would like to see electronic duty of care right across the sector.”

Earlier this year, CEWEP stated: “The current amount of WtE capacity in EU28 is just sufficient for the implementation of the municipal waste targets suggested by the Commission in the Circular Economy Package. However, thermal treatment capacity is also needed for residual commercial and industrial waste. Although the EU does not (yet) have a solid database for the treatment of commercial and industrial waste, it can be assumed that a considerable amount of the rejects from the recycling of these waste streams need sustainable treatment in WtE plants in order to avoid landfilling.”

Bates posed the rhetorical question: “How much capacity do we have [in the UK] and how much do we need?”

In 2015, Biffa warned: “Even among the most sceptical analysts there is no disputing the existence of a substantial residual waste treatment infrastructure capacity gap in the UK, presently in the region of 15Mtpa. With the exception of one analyst, there is also broad consensus that it will persist to at least 2025.”

The CIWM president pointed out that: “We don’t know what recycling targets the government will have.”

In 2014, Defra said: “Currently EfW is generally a better management route than landfill for residual waste. However, the more efficient the EfW plant is at turning waste into energy, the greater the carbon offset from conventional power generation and the lower the net emissions from EfW. High biogenic content makes EfW inherently better and landfill inherently worse.”

Progress so far

Another speaker preoccupied with Brexit was Ian Crummack, managing director of Cobalt Energy and who also chaired EfW 2017. He reminded the conference that, according to WRAP, there are more than 60 EfW plants online today in the UK and the sector is still actively growing, although Crummack commented: “Some would say the EfW sector has succeeded and prospered despite, rather than because of, any specific government policy.”

Addressing the issue of environmental legislation, the MD said: “Environmental legislation from Europe has been a major force in the creation of the EfW sector in the UK.” He warned: “It is politically inconceivable that the UK government could somehow ‘tone down’ the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) through the Great Repeal Bill in order to save costs or claim that ‘EU red tape’ has been abolished? How would that be explainable as a Brexit benefit?”

Crummack predicted that post-Brexit, the cost of operating EfW plants will not change. He felt this is due to a growing base of knowledge and expertise in the UK; operating costs that are heavily influenced by the cost of the retained and permanently employed staff; reagents and consumables which are available from the UK home market, as well spares and specialist services being generally accessible.

PPP or merchant route?

Responding to concerns about the export of RDF, James Snape, partner at Nabarro, believed that “the export of RDF is predicted to decline” and also reported that if there is a choice between going down the merchant or PPP route, there is a shift towards merchant plants along with local authorities, such as Aberdeen and North London, favouring design, build, operate (DBO) projects. He also pointed to a diversification of sponsors with a move away from traditional waste companies to companies such as John Laing and Equitix.

Heat network investment project

Keven Le Doujet from the heat networks team at BEIS was keen to flag up the heat network investment project. He pointed to three EfW plants that are already supplying heat networks in the UK: SELCHP in London, Sheffield, and Eastcroft in Nottingham. Companies intending to apply to the Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP) can ask for funding towards heating networks, cooling networks and heat networks that also generate electricity. Eligible heat networks should connect two or more buildings, with no technical or contractual impediment to future expansion or interconnection. The heat source should comprise more than 50% renewable energy, 50% recovered heat, 75% CHP or 50% combination heat generated over the lifetime of the primary source. Who is eligible to apply? This includes public sector organisations in England and Wales, except central government departments. In terms of what is on offer, this includes grants or soft loans (fiscal) and soft loans (non-fiscal). To find out more, contact the heat networks team at heatnetworks@beis.gov.uk

EfW in smart cities

Looking to the future and how EfW will fit into the smart city agenda, Stuart Hayward-Higham, technical development director at SUEZ Recycling & Recovery UK, said EfW doesn’t necessarily have to involve large facilities, but can consist of small plants fed by waste biomass from used coffee beans, anaerobic digestion and landfill gas to electricity. Also, it does not necessitate the laying of heat network pipes in congested areas; instead it means proportional integration into industrial, commercial and residential areas. However, Hayward-Higham pointed out that a 60ktpa RDF-fed gasification project would need at least 300,000 people recycling at 50% to deliver sufficient fuel. Other options to consider for incorporation with smart cities include urban farms, liquid fertiliser and soil improver. The technical development director emphasised that in the end it is an integrated smart solution. This incorporates a common collaborative collection; embedded consolidate and local treatment solutions; re-use and refurbishment business establishment; minimisation and prevention build-in; SMART bin options to minimise traffic and wasted journeys; and systems design to match facility and occupant needs.

LA perspective

Further to the ongoing austerity agenda and the budgets cuts being experienced by local authorities, Andrew Bird, chair of LARAC, envisaged changes that will impact EfW. These are more charging for the collection of green waste, extracting more value from end materials, more partnership working, pay as you throw, and extended producer responsibility.

“The future is already here,” said Bird. “The short- to medium-term focus appears to be to reduce residual waste, with over 10 authorities already going down the three- to four-weekly collection route.” The LARAC chairman added: “We need to get the public to take ownership of the waste they produce. Also it is doubtful the UK will meet the 50% recycling target, so what about the 70% target? We need to find ways of funding waste services. Should it be thought of as a utility service? We must create a demand in the market for recyclable materials as well as standardise what we collect and ensure we have the right infrastructure in the right place.”

Home energy recovery unit

Challenging the traditional means of dealing with municipal waste is Hussam Jouhara, reader (associate professor) at Brunel University London who is part of the team who has designed the home energy recovery unit (HERU). The unit offers the following benefits: it treats municipal waste at source, which means no collection; it transforms waste from hazardous status to inert fuel; it runs using a standard 13-amp heater with no additional infrastructure for homes; offers a pyrolysis maximum working temperature of less than 300 degrees centigrade to prevent the formation of dioxins; and can be a standalone domestic water heating system or a pre-heater. “Pyrolysis has been around for a long time but has been largely unsuccessful in waste treatment due to technology challenges,” said Jouhara. “The answer is heat pipe technology. HERU is the world’s first waste hybrid boiler and is also capable of running on gas to ensure, when there is no waste to process, the unit works similarly to any conventional domestic boiler.”

The final word on the ultimate aim of energy-from-waste projects goes to Adrian Judge, director of Tolvik Consulting: “While drivers are different in each EU country, the emphasis is on efficiency. How far can we go?”

-For details on how to obtain a copy of the EfW 2017 presentations, contact the events team on 01322 221144


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