- Category: Waste
- Created on 03 July 2012
- Written by Carly
- Hits: 393
By Colin Dummond
In today’s ‘throwaway’ society, it is understandable that we should sometimes feel pessimistic about our lifestyle, not least the amount of resources we are using up. We live in a world where each new product launch leads to another addition to our ‘wish’ list while we tend to forget
about the fads that we ‘couldn’t live without’ last year. The result of our often disposable way of life is a growing pressure on natural resources – waste. And yet, it is precisely what we are throwing away that could hold part of the key to a more sustainable future, not to mention a source of considerable savings for both the private and public sector, argues Colin Drummond, chief executive of Viridor.
Almost everybody knows that they should recycle. Responsible individuals, councils and businesses are all doing their bit to help to bridge the gap between the UK and our European counterparts, and create the green and sustainable country that our Government wants. And our efforts are being rewarded. Local authority recycling, composting and reuse rates have increased over 29% to 41.2% in the ten years to 2011 and UK businesses are now recycling over 50% of their waste, but this still leaves over 20 million tonnes of waste every year that is not or cannot be recycled.
Businesses’ and the waste and recycling industry need to continue to work together to ensure that everything is being done to help make recycling systems cost effective and convenient, and to make the most out of recyclable waste. We also need to be recovering as much value as possible from what can’t be recycled. The continent is well ahead of us on this and as a result countries such as Germany, Sweden and Denmark are benefitting from the cheaper electricity prices that energy from waste can bring. The amount of UK waste sent abroad to be used to generate electricity for other countries has quadrupled in the past five months. At the same time in this country we continue to see, and complain about, rising energy prices. Building essential Energy from Waste infrastructure would also bring with it significant investment and much needed employment opportunities.
Energy from Waste: A European Success Story
The experience of other EU countries demonstrates that energy generation is a vital part of sustainable waste management. Too often, recycling and energy from waste are perceived to be in conflict in the UK, but this is not borne out by the evidence; Germany, Sweden, Holland and several other EU countries have the highest levels of recycling and also much higher proportions of Energy from Waste than here in the UK.
Technology options for residual waste treatment are at very different stages of maturity and deployment. Landfill and sewage gas generation and utilisation and controlled combustion of residual waste are well established, whilst ‘advanced’ conversion technologies, such as gasification, are emerging. The UK’s over-reliance on landfill has, at least, resulted in a successfully managed landfill gas sector. There are 334 landfill gas power generating sites in the UK, which contribute nearly 20 per cent of total renewable power production . The output of this sector is, however, declining as waste is increasingly diverted away from landfill.
In the UK, Energy from Waste makes only a small contribution to the total waste management solution. In 2009/10, 13.6 per cent of local authority collected waste was used for energy recovery whilst 46.9 per cent was landfilled . This can be compared to Germany’s figures for 2010, which show that 48 per cent of waste was recycled/composted, 35 per cent used for energy recovery and 1 per cent sent to landfill .
In the UK at present, producing energy from waste via all technologies, including landfill gas and Energy from Waste, amounts to 1.5 per cent of UK electricity. This is similar to that provided by wind energy but there is the potential to drastically increase energy from waste capability in the near future, and Viridor believes that we should be aiming for the industry to reach 6% in the next five years.
Modern energy from waste plants using controlled combustion are achieving good levels of efficiency in terms of waste to energy conversion and emissions control. Overall efficiency can be improved further if plants can achieve a good balance of combined heat and power utilisation.
Case Study: Runcorn CHP
Runcorn EfW CHP plant, currently under construction in the North West, will be one of the largest and most efficient in Europe with a total capacity of 70MW of electricity and 51MW of heat, treating up to 750,000 tonnes of solid recovered fuel from residual waste p.a. The plant will use solid recovered fuel to provide heat and power to major chemicals producer INEOS Chlor’s neighbouring chlorine manufacturing site, significantly reducing its reliance on fossil fuels. The INEOS Chlor plant currently consumes the same amount of electricity as a city the size of Liverpool, with the fully operational CHP plant scheduled to contribute around 20 per cent of the site’s total energy needs once fully operational. The fuel, derived from both household and commercial waste, will feed the CHP facility which will produce electricity and steam to replace energy currently generated from non-renewable sources.
Phase I of the Runcorn CHP plant is scheduled to be operational in 2013 with Phase II to come on stream by 2014/2015, by which time such energy from waste facilities will be cost competitive against landfill as landfill tax rises to £80 per tonne. The project has employed a daily average of 325 people on site, rising to 700 at its peak, during the construction period, and many more through the supply chain. Viridor, the operating company, is currently recruiting up to 56 positions for highly skilled operatives for Phase I, rising to 70 once Phase II comes online. This is an incredibly positive consequence for the local community.
UK Policy and Planning
The UK’s policy framework for energy from mixed wastes in recent years has been challenging and uncertain. Thermal waste plants have been difficult to take through planning and permitting. Uncertainty with the current support mechanisms for the generation of renewable power has not helped investors take on the added risk of a plant, particularly in the case of emerging technologies. Waste facilities can only receive even limited support for power generation when combined with heat recovery; however this requires the plant to be built near to an area that can utilise the heat, as is the case with Runcorn and INEOS Chlor.
The radical shake up of planning laws announced within the 2012 budget paves the way for a more simplified planning process, by removing red tape. This is something that the waste industry had been pushing for a long time and that had previously limited the ability to secure investment. It is anticipated that the new planning framework, which the government claims will include a “powerful presumption in favour of sustainable development”, will encourage investment in UK waste treatment facilities, particularly energy from waste by making them more deliverable.
Energy from Waste represents a significant opportunity to increase our resource efficiency and contribute to resource security in the UK. Our sector, and companies like Viridor, are already operating such plants alongside recycling services and stand ready to invest more in the coming years. Such investment allows us to continue providing an essential service to local authorities and commercial waste producers and will help the UK to become a little less wasteful in the process.