Eastern promise: the potential for waste to energy, power and fuels in Asia

Written by: Dr Adam Read | Published:
Dr Adam Read, practice director for resource efficiency & waste management @ Ricardo Energy & Environment

Each month, Dr Adam Read, practice director for resource efficiency & waste management @ Ricardo Energy & Environment discusses the big issues from his point of view, and this month reflects on what is happening with energy from waste solutions in Asia and what this means for UK businesses.

12 months ago I spent a very productive week in Manila at the request of the Asian Development Bank, running a full day workshop on waste to energy technologies, risks and opportunities as part of the Asian Clean Energy Forum.

The Ricardo team, and 15 industry experts, delivered a series of presentations and facilitated group discussions on the types of technologies available (from landfill gas extraction to gasification) and the governance, finance and environmental issues that need to be addressed to make these types of investment work. Over 100 delegates participated, and we picked up a number of commissions to undertake technology feasibility, market assessment, business case reviews and municipal strategies to help position waste to energy projects for future financing. Owing to the success of this event the ADB invited me and my team to join them again at ACEF2017 to design and deliver a half-day workshop on advanced waste to energy technologies and their potential application in the region.

ADB workshop on waste to fuels

This year's event was a more focused (deep dive) session focused on two core themes: (a) heat and power potential and [(b) transport fuel applications. The Asian market is a little behind the developments in the ‘west’ and the 100 plus delegates were very keen to understand the range of newer technologies available to solve their waste management, energy generation and fuel availability needs.

We used audience polls to judge the priorities and opportunities throughout the sessions. 67% of participants were planning a waste to energy project in the next 12 months, but at the outset it was clear that there was far more interest in energy generation than fuel production (only 17% of participants thought that fuel production was a priority for them and their city/region). Yet only 43% of participants were confident they understood the waste to energy technologies available, giving our expert panel plenty of scope to inform and educate the potential market.

Our expert panels included:

  • Jean Marc Erignoux, CNIM (technology provider)
  • Philip Short, Wheelabrator (waste management company & developer)
  • Sundus Cordelia Ramli, DONG Energy (technology provider)
  • Rolf Stein, Advanced Plasma Power (technology provider and UK company)
  • Jonas Giuliani, Safe Gas (technology provider)
  • Amit Tandon, Ventana (technology provider & developer)
  • Henrik Selstam and Erik Fareid, Waste4Fuel (technology provider)

They did an excellent job of introducing their own technologies, explaining their case studies, and outlining how their solutions work in differing regions around the world (from India and Mexico, to the UK and Malaysia). Thank you for your time and contribution it really helped to bring these projects to life for the delegates!

By the end of the workshop the level of appreciation and understanding of the technologies available and their application in the planned future projects had risen significantly to over 78% - a great job by all the panellists!! However, over 7% were still more interested in power / energy outputs than fuels, so perhaps it is a little too early for any rapid expansion of the fuels from waste market in Asia. But that should not hold back developments in the UK and Europe, and there we pioneer, so Asia will follow in due course, once they have sorted out some of their strategic priorities, ensured they can cost recover adequately for their existing waste management services and have defined how they want to incentivise green fuels in the future. I would say come back in 2 or 3 years and we will see a range of interesting new technologies in place, perhaps only at pilot project stage, but nonetheless working towards proof of concept.

Fast forward

Clearly there is a lot of waste that needs treating (and more expected as these cultures adopt even more western styles of living), while energy demands and fuel demands continue to grow across Asia. The continent has many mega-cities and a huge number of rapidly expanding urban areas that will need to have new waste management, power generation and transportation networks in place to function adequately. So I think the region’s future as a hub of new waste technologies that can satisfy these demands is clear to all. And with the ADB involved I suspect we will start to see the type of investment needed to support new governance, administrative structures and procurement programmes that will deliver the infrastructure the continent needs so badly.

ADB have already committed to a third workshop on waste to energy related issues, and will seek feedback from the delegates and their in-country teams to help refine the themes. We expect to be back in Manila in 12 months helping to deliver the next stage, which could involve more case studies, and perhaps more focus on how to set up the right policies, incentives and governance structures to make these projects bankable. So if you are interested in the region and the opportunities that may come online in the future, of if you want to share your experiences with the Asian delegates next year then let me know.

And what of the opportunities for UK plc?

Well that’s obvious, and it isn’t necessarily building the new infrastructure that is so desperately needed (although Advanced Plasma Power might have something to say about that). No, the opportunities will initially be in helping position cities, regions and national governments to develop the right types of projects, incentives, policies and programmes that make these projects bankable, both in terms of the ADB and also the private investors and technology providers who want to do business in the region.

When asked what were the biggest barriers to the development of all forms of waste to energy projects, the delegates responded:

  • Limited financial resources 23%
  • Limited understanding/access to technical expertise 27%
  • Inadequate planning or legislative systems 25%
  • Inadequate waste collection/waste ownership 14%

I see this as good news for the UK, and having spoken at length with the UK Embassy while in Manila I can see a number of upcoming trade missions not only to the Philippines, but also to Malaysia, the former Soviet States like Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, plus of course, Pakistan and China.

These trade missions and the business meetings that are held, as well as the seminars you participate in are vital opportunities for UK companies to showcase what the UK has to offer. I believe consultancy support will be the first wave of UK export, and we are already doing feasibility studies, strategy support, funding proposals and undertaking outline design and procurement support in the region.

The next phase will be the design and build opportunities, and then there will be operations, so I can only see a bright future in Asian for the UK if we can export some of our know-how, some of our more innovative technologies (in particular around future fuel production) and if we can help shape the policies, strategies, incentives and governance & financing systems that are so vital to underpinning these types of large infrastructure projects.

I hope that provides you with enough insight to convince you to get involved. We will be looking for speakers and case studies for next year’s deep dive workshop (June 2018) and in the meantime we may well deliver a series of training workshops for the ADB staff and for national and local government officers to help them in scoping projects, select suitable technology types for their feedstocks, to decide on priority products (fuels, heat, power etc) and to prepare the associated systems and structures to enable these projects to be delivered effectively.

I’m ready to continue to support the development of advanced technologies in the region, with the support of the ADB, and I firmly believe that waste to fuels has a significant role to play in the region in years to come, and you heard it here first!

The scale of the opportunity is significant. It is just a matter of time and getting the fundamentals in place first that will open the gates for new projects across Asia, so in the meantime keep those western plants running, innovate new solutions, learn the lessons about what works and what doesn’t (and why) and be prepared to share and learn with each other at future events and workshops…. I might see you in the region sometime soon.


As with all my ‘comments’ they are mine and mine alone. If you would like to get in touch or share your opinions then email me on adam.read@ricardo.com. For more of my blogs please refer to http://www.ricardo-aea.com/cms/resource-efficiency...

Dr Read is global practice director for Ricardo Energy & Environment’s Resource Efficiency and Waste Management Practice, and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management and the Royal Geographical Society. He has more than 20 years of waste sector strategy, service design, procurement and communications experience, both in the UK and overseas, and is a regular industry commentator, author and conference speaker, both in the UK and around the world.


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