Power rangers

Written by: Editorial staff | Published:
Milton Keynes gasification plant

At last month’s Energy from Waste conference, speakers representing the UK and European EfW scenes discussed all the pressing topics of the day, spanning the EC, the CEP, heat network development and the problem of poor-quality recyclates. RWW reports.

With all eyes on this summer’s UK referendum on EU membership, it seemed appropriate that Jose-Jorge Diaz del Castillo, the European Commission’s legal officer in DG Environment, started proceedings at the 12th Energy from Waste conference in London last month.

“Each day there are 200,000 more mouths to be fed on the planet. I think it is a crying shame that half of the EU member states, such as Rumania, are losing so much of their resources into landfills. On top of which, only 1% of rare metals in Europe are currently being recycled,” stated the legal officer, who went on to advise that the Commission is going to unveil a platform where people can propose projects in sectors such as EfW to help boost circular product design.

The emphasis, according to Diaz del Castillo, will be on reparability, durability and recyclability in eco-design as well as best practices for waste management and resource efficiency in the industrial sector.

However, he predicted there will always be a fraction of waste which can be used and embedded in energy. “I am not saying we should incinerate the whole planet, but there is a role for energy from waste within the Energy Union Package.” A ‘communication’ is going to be issued later this year in which plans will be explained. Diaz del Castillo told the conference that challenges facing the Commission include ending the practice of incinerating unsorted and recyclable waste, addressing social acceptance, pushing the boundaries of energy efficiency in waste-to-energy plants and optimising waste-derived fuels and recycling residues, particularly metals, from incineration

Hostages to the market’s whim

Taking a gloomier, albeit pragmatic, view of the waste management sector, particularly from a UK perspective, David Palmer-Jones, CEO of Suez and president of FEAD, the European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services, told the conference: “Having new and positive things from a policy perspective is becoming increasingly difficult, despite best efforts to get the government to take our sector seriously. For example, EDF’s decision to elongate the life of old power plants rather than, let’s say, the government recognising the possibilities offered by EfW, is not a sustainable long-term policy.”

Palmer-Jones went on to warn that business models within the waste management sector are exposed to volatility and macroeconomics.

“We have started to become hostages to the whim of the market, which has become very fragile.” He pointed out that “policy intervention and the EU is our only hope. In fact, the industry waited with bated breath to see our last hope, the Circular Economy Package (CEP) set the environment agenda.” However, the CEO pointed out that the CEP is largely silent on the role of EfW. “I start to fear the CEP will falter and fail to materialise unless there is a strong policy bridge to make up the gap. It is time for the EU to hear our call; the absence of policy support around market creation is something that will come back to haunt them.”

“Our sector is being asked to perform with one arm tied behind its back, with the current CEP still focusing on end-of-pipe measures,” warned Palmer-Jones.

German revelation

A discussion chaired by Adrian Judge, director of Tolvik Consulting, threw up the surprising revelation by Thomas Obermaier, president of the German Association for Waste Management, that Germany’s recycling rate (currently understood to be around 64%), including composting, is more like 50%.

“It depends on how we calculate the composition of materials,” said Obermaier. “We are at 50% and we do not see ways to increase it. The only way to do so is by more biowaste collection and treatment.” When asked why Germany would struggle to achieve the 65% recycling target set out in the CEP, he said it was because the markets are not there.

Obermaier stated that while there are markets for textiles and paper, there is no market for plastics. “Recycling will increase the costs of waste management,” he added.

Jakob Sahlen, advisor on energy recovery for Avfall Sverige in Sweden, also felt that the targets would be difficult to achieve. In a discussion that looked at the commercial environment for EfW and the means of securing growth, Palmer-Jones said: “Everything says we should invest to follow Europe’s lead, but we don’t have stability in the market. What’s going to happen to the UK when we close all the landfills? There is currently no incentive to invest in new plants.”

As part of the EfW conference programme, delegates had the opportunity to visit the new gasification plant in Milton Keynes. Amey is working in partnership with Milton Keynes Council to develop the facility, which will bring mechanical treatment and heat energy recovery technologies to make the most of rubbish from households and businesses across the borough.

When the facility opens in the autumn, it is estimated that Milton Keynes is expected to produce around 125,000 tonnes of rubbish each year, rising to 170,000 tonnes by 2040. Milton Keynes Waste Recovery Park is anticipated to use this waste to create enough energy to power the equivalent of 11,000 homes, with waste sent to landfill down to around 3%.

Andy Hudson, head of environment and waste at Milton Keynes Council, recalled: “We thought PFI was the best thing that ever happened, and then it fell through and that turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to us. The change in direction also heralded Milton Keynes Council’s ‘no mass burn’ incineration policy, along with the town’s zero waste policy.” Hudson went on to add that Milton Keynes also has a policy of self-sufficiency where the town aims to dispose of waste within the borough at facilities within a maximum 30-mile limit.

DECC heat network funding

David Wagstaff, head of heat infrastructure at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, reminded the conference that developers and investors in low-carbon heat network projects in both the private and public sectors are being invited to apply for funding later this year from DECC’s £300 million investment fund.

“We are looking for projects that will work and which are expected to lead to the construction of around 200 heat networks in towns, cities and communities across England and Wales,” said Wagstaff.

“It’s not happening quickly enough, we are going to put money in the commercialisation end to help make it happen. In the next five years, we are talking about spending £300 million,” he explained before adding: “We are in consultation mode right now with the first round taking place in the 2016/2017 financial year, and we expect money to be going out of the door at the end of the year.”

The head of DECC’s heat infrastructure team said they are already talking to potential investors, developers and other stakeholders. He also reassured delegates that the funding also applies for district cooling networks and that the heat infrastructure team will pre-publish criteria for funding applications.

Overstating

Still on the subject of heat network development, Dr Adam Read, practice director – waste management at Ricardo AEA, said: “EfW currently provides 1% of UK heat and energy requirements, but the potential is significant and in a lower-carbon world, utilising low-quality materials and consumer residues to generate up to 20% of UK energy and heat demands seems to make a great deal of sense, particularly when the end-users are so local to the sources of waste (namely consumers and industry) – a truly urban closed loop economy in my eyes.

“This is exactly what you find in Paris, Copenhagen, Malmo, Vienna and other leading EU cities, so why not in the UK? We finally have SELCHP delivering in this fashion, while Sheffield has been a beacon of such local energy and heat cycling for a number of years.”

Andrew Bird, chair of LARAC, called for consistency in waste collections. “It’s not the way we collect waste, it’s the variance in materials collected by local authorities,” he stated. “Plastics is the biggest challenge. Let’s agree on a standard range of materials collected for organics and recycling; particularly food and plastics. What do we do with pots, tubs and trays? Personally, I think they should be burned so that we get some energy from them.”

Bird also called for ‘smart communications’. “We should engage more with industry and retailers so consumers see the same message presented in a consistent way,” he urged.

“There is now a need to fundamentally change the way we collect waste,” continued Bird, before posing the questions: “Should it be thought of as a utility service? Should we introduce a pay-as-you-throw for non-recyclable waste? Should we create demand in the market for recyclable materials?”

Phil Piddington, chief operating officer at Viridor, sounded a note of caution in that the biggest problem for the waste management sector has not been low commodity prices for recyclates, but lower quality recyclates.

“As a result of austerity, many authorities are giving us lower quality material that we cannot even process,” said Piddington, before adding that companies such as Viridor “cannot take materials that are grossly out of specification as it is unsafe and unacceptable”.

He pointed out: “We need to put billions of pounds into energy recovery in the next 10 years, but we don’t have a framework. We are at a time of economic realism.”


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