Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Energy-from-waste set for expansion

energy from waste
An anaerobic digestion (AD) plant in Scotland.
Waste management group Shanks has announced that it has signed a £750 million contract with the BDR Waste Partnership (Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Councils) to build a mechanical biological treatment (MBT) and anaerobic digestion (AD) plant in Rotherham in South Yorkshire, with the capacity to treat 265,000 tonnes of municipal waste per year.

The contract will be executed by 3SE, a partnership between Shanks and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), which holds a 25% stake in 3SE and will use half of the solid recovered material produced in the MBT for power generation.

In the UK, and globally, energy-from-waste, whether from AD, gasification or incineration, is experiencing long-awaited growth.

On Friday, the UK Government won a long-standing battle with protesters against an incineration plant in Cornwall when a court of appeal upheld Secretary of State Eric Pickles' judgement to grant planning permission for SITA UK's £117 million waste to energy facility in St Denis.

The Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre (CERC) will now go ahead and be able to treat some 240,000 tonnes of non-recyclable residual waste each year, generating around 16 MW of electricity.

The facility had been granted planning permission by Mr Pickles in May last year but this was challenged by the Cornwall Waste Forum, with the High Court in London up holding their challenge last October. Eric Pickles appealed this decision and has now won.

However, opponents have vowed to take the fight to Europe. Campaigner Ken Rickard said: "We've already started exploring various avenues. It's not the end, the fight goes on, even to Europe."

A rearguard battle is also going on to prevent the construction of an incinerator in King's Lynn, Norfolk. However construction of this does seem likely following Defra officials advising West Norfolk Council last week that its legal challenge stands no chance of succeeding.

Last November, environment secretary Caroline Spelman decided to award Norfolk County Council £91m in waste infrastructure credits to build the energy-from-waste plant at Saddlebow.

Ministers are hoping that new financial support for energy-from-waste and changes to the planning regime will speed up the construction of such plants, especially the uncontroversial AD ones.

Global trend

The global trend is for the construction of far more plants that produce energy from waste, in particular incineration, despite opponents' claims that this reduces the demand for recyclable materials and is less efficient in the long run.

New research by consultants Pike Research says that globally, the market for thermal and biological waste-to-energy technologies will reach at least $6.2 billion in 2012 and grow to $29.2 billion over the next 10 years.

They estimate that in 2011 the world generated over 2 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste, a figure that will dramatically increase over this period, making an increase in waste-to-energy processes inevitable, such that by 2022 these systems will convert more than 261 million tonnes of waste each year into an estimated 283 terawatt-hours of electricity.

Over 800 thermal waste-from-energy plants currently operate in nearly 40 countries around the world, which in 2011 treated just 11% of MSW generated, compared to the 70% that was landfilled.

Although combustion technologies continue to dominate the market, AD and advanced thermal treatment (ATT) technology deployments such as pyrolysis are expected to pick up as diminishing landfill capacity improves the economics.

Opponents of incineration point to Denmark, which burns the highest proportion of its municipal waste in Europe, 54%, most of which generates electricity, but which lags behind nine countries in its rate of recycling. They say that if it incinerated less it would recycle more.

Waste per person

The picture is reflected across Europe, where Britain came below average in a ranking of European countries of how much municipal waste they sent to landfill in 2010, which ministers believe indicates the need for more energy-from-waste plants to meet Waste Directive targets for landfill avoidance.

The average percentage of such waste sent to landfill in 2010 of all EU 27 countries was 38%, whereas the United Kingdom sent 49%, according to figures just published by Eurostat.

The European average figures were: 38% to landfill, 22% incinerated, 25% recycled and 15% composted.

The United Kingdom's figures for the same year were: 49% to landfill, 12% incinerated, 25% recycled and 14% composted.

The United Kingdom would be more likely to have met or exceeded the average figures for land filling and incineration had energy-from-waste plant proposals not been so consistently opposed by local people. There are no figures for mechanical biological treatment and anaerobic digestion, a relatively new technology.

The amount of waste generated per person varies widely in each country.

Cyprus (just the Greek half, remember) produces by far the greatest amount of waste per head at 760 kg; a great deal for a small island.

Luxembourg, Denmark and Ireland throw away between 600 and 700 kg per person, while the UK is with the Netherlands, Malta, Austria, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal in discarding between 500 and 600 kg per person.

Finland, Belgium, Sweden, Greece, Slovenia, Hungary and Bulgaria throw out between 400 and 500 kg, while the lowest amounts were recorded in the countries with the lowest income per head: Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia and Latvia (under 400 kg per person).

Treatment methods vary

The figures show how the different methods of waste treatment vary across different countries.

Incineration is favoured by Denmark (54% of waste treated), Sweden (49%), the Netherlands (39%), Germany (38%), Belgium (37%), Luxembourg (35%) and France (34%), whereas 10 other Member States incinerate 1% or less of waste.

Recycling was popular in Germany (45% of waste treated), Belgium (40%), Slovenia (39%), Sweden (36%), Ireland (35%) and the Netherlands (33%).

Composting forms a significant percentage of waste treatment in Austria (40%), the Netherlands (28%), Belgium (22%), Luxembourg (20%), Denmark (19%) and Spain (18%).

Recycling and composting together accounted for 50% of waste treated or more in Austria (70%), Belgium and Germany (both 62%), the Netherlands (61%) and Sweden (50%).

However, in five Member States less than 10% of waste was recycled or composted.

A study carried out for the European Commission indicates that full implementation of EU Waste Directive could save €72 billion a year.

“This is why our priority is to improve the implementation of the existing legislation across the EU by bringing landfilling down and increasing recycling,” said EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik on Friday.

Progress in Wales

Separately, Wales has just posted figures on how its own waste was processed between October 2010 and March 2011, revealing that just 3,950 tonnes were incinerated for energy.

The Welsh Government prefers recycling to incineration, priding itself on its progress to a Zero Waste Wales target.

The figures reveal that 60,000 tonnes of waste were processed into new materials or products and nearly 50,000 tonnes composted. Less than 10,000 tonnes were recycled and about the same amount sent to landfill.

Environment Minister, John Griffiths, said: “Wales has the highest recycling rate of any UK country and publication of a report like this shows people what happens to their waste. Next year (2012/13) local authorities will have to recycle 52% of waste to comply with new Welsh Government statutory targets“.

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