Industrial and commercial waste: Don't waste its potential

Written by: George Giles | Published:

Could industrial and commercial waste be the answer to help energy from waste plants lessen their reliance on current subsidy support and offer energy generation and waste management solutions for the nation's huge industrial basis? George Giles, head of renewable power and oil & gas at Siemens Industry UK, highlights what could be a 'win-win' situation for all concerned.

Both local authorities and private waste plant operators are more than aware that the current low level of overall waste going to energy from waste streams - some 17% according to 2014 figures from the European Commission - needs a drastic uplift if national carbon targets are to be met.

Only 2% of the UK's commercial and industrial waste is currently processed by energy from waste plants, meaning the majority is being disposed of via often expensive alternative methods, primarily landfill. The need for effective, operationally efficient and financially sound energy from waste plants has never been clearer.

Meanwhile, the financial model to design, construct and operate energy from waste plant remains closely wedded to the support offered by a current subsidy regime that, while successful in getting plants up and running, cannot be relied upon to remain in place in the years ahead. The need to create the means for self-sufficient EfW plants to thrive will increase as the era of non-subsidy draws closer.

A new and reliable waste stream?

With this in mind, perhaps the requirements of the industrial market which has to deal with significant levels of waste, could provide the answer for the future viability of EfW plants through the availability of a new and reliable waste stream? By doing so, it could potentially reduce the expense of waste management commitments for many companies while simultaneously generating 'off grid' energy as a potential income source.

Such a scenario could also help EfW plants begin to exist without the financial safety net that the current subsidy-backed environment provides.

It could result in a 'win-win' situation for local authorities, the government, industrial and commercial businesses and energy plant operators alike.

The ever increasing pressure of escalating energy bills and with many large-scale industrial and commercial operations producing vast quantities of waste on a daily basis, the time is now right for industrial and commercial companies to reassess their strategic approach to holistic energy management.

They should also explore how technical advances will soon be able to transform their waste products into a viable 'off grid' energy source. This could not only fuel their own energy requirements, but it may also enable them to export energy back to the grid for financial return.

With problems associated with the disposal of waste products in the past, the current and anticipated future technology solutions such as the development of advanced thermal technologies, offers great promise in this field and holds the key to releasing the potential of industrial waste disposal via EfW plants.

A number of EfW pilot plants are now up and running, using advanced thermal technologies to process a range of industrial waste products that had previously not been feasible.

Processing industrial waste at extreme temperature using this method is not only resulting in minimal emissions discharge and the safe eradication of harmful particulates, it is also providing a proven and highly valuable energy source as a result.

Possibilities of industrial waste

The example of the cement industry, which has for a number of years successfully used old tyres as a fuel source for its processes, is testimony to the possibilities of industrial waste use in this manner.

The development of the current pilot plants, and the results being achieved, are essentially an extension and refinement of such a principle.

With the current small percentage of industrial waste handled by energy from waste plants, one only has to consider the vast quantities of waste generated by our industrial base to appreciate the scope for growth that exists here once the technology is fully formed and the pilot plants have proven their worth.

We are seeing genuine interest in proposals by large industrial users of energy who are also significant producers of waste. They are seeking to partner with technology suppliers and EfW plants to help them deal with the energy and waste issues confronting their business.

Again, this opens the possibilities of new business ventures that can help deliver a sustainable financial return for EfW operators seeking a self-sufficient future.

Taking a holistic approach

With an operator's eye on the long term, the adoption of a holistic approach to EfW plant design and operation can also help reap real benefit in terms of financial returns.

Integrated solutions and standardised strategies reduce risk with process control, plant automation, instrumentation, emissions monitoring and energy management forming an integrated plant-wide portfolio of solutions.

Indeed, estimates have shown that such an approach can deliver up to 13% operational savings per annum over a 25-year operating period.

Taking an overview of plant preparatory work, leading operators in the EfW market can minimise future risk and operational expenditure over the lifetime of the facility, while simultaneously optimising plant performance so they are best placed to meet customer and market expectations.

By considering the potential resulting from a substantial upscale in the amount of industrial waste processed by the EfW sector, together with a holistic and long term strategic approach to the design, construction and operation of EfW plants, it is clear the waste management and energy generation needs of the nation's industrial and commercial community can be satisfied.

At the same time, it can help drive a self-supporting financial model for EfW operators which can be successfully implemented over the lifetime of plant operation.

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