How the UK needs to take a giant step in energy from waste

Written by: ?Stephen Wise | Published:
Stephen Wise, associate director, waste technical leader, Environment & Infrastructure, Amec Foster Wheeler

Stephen Wise, associate director, waste technical leader, Environment & Infrastructure, Amec Foster Wheeler, attended the first Global Energy from Waste from Waste Innovation summit in Berlin earlier this month. He argues that while many see energy from waste (EfW) as the simple burning of waste to generate electricity, EfW should be seen instead as part of the circular economy, part of the digital revolution and part of the infrastructure in delivering smart cities and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The summit also ably demonstrated that EfW is much more than just burning of waste and electricity. It covers a broad range of technology and processes including anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis and covers many outputs that are useful including aggregate replacing bottom ash and the generation of heat energy. The main themes were centred on delivering and implementation innovation, funding, regulation and the circular economy.

While all the presentations were interesting and showed real innovation across and within the sector, the three aspects that really stood out for me were around digitalisation, use of heat energy and integration within smart cities.

Big data

Digitalisation looked at the use of ‘big data’ – all of that data being generated by hundreds of sensors around even the smallest of energy from waste plants. This data can be collected, analysed and used to develop information which is then used to deliver enhanced performance including reduced emissions, improved reliability, and increased availability and reduced operational costs.

This is happening now with companies such as GE leading the way in applying analytical tools to make use of the vast quantities of data being generated in real time. This really shows how data can be used in a real world environment to great benefit. And for those worried about cyber security and hackers taking over energy from waste plants, all the data analysis is undertaken off line with instructions fed back to the operators to implement locally, so no far away hand making the alterations.

This approach linked well with the use of energy from waste within the waste hierarchy and circular economy, and the innovative work being undertaken to capture and reuse heat energy. This was exemplified by the innovative work being undertaken in the Netherlands around Rotterdam where the requirement to renew the gas infrastructure has led to an opportunity to look at coming off gas and delivering a new heat network within Rotterdam and the wider region which will completely transform energy use.

Equivalent of 5G

This work really is the heat network equivalent of 5G with a heat network that will capture, reuse and recycle heat from energy from waste plants, industrial generators and users, agriculture, green house growers and one of Europe’s largest breweries. This will remove the need for gas and lead to energy as both electricity and heat being from completely renewable sources with the associated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This is cutting edge work and has now gone past the thinking stage and into the delivery stage with the first parts of the heat network being developed. It shows how much heat we generate and waste that can be sustainably captured and reused and recycled. Imagine this within a UK context. We really are behind and need to take giant steps in this area.

Energy from waste plants have the capability of being integral to the development of cities that are better connected, make use of analytics and are more sustainable than they are today.

This summit showed that there is still great innovation happening within the energy from waste sector and that it is a technology that has a place to play in the digital data driven world of today and tomorrow.

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