The future is bright: The future is zero waste to landfill

Written by: Hisanori Shimakura | Published:

Hisanori Shimakura, General Manager, EfW Business, International Operations Marketing and Sales Division, KOBELCO ECO-SOLUTIONS CO., LTD., a technology provider for fluidised bed waste gasification plants, explains how with the use of appropriate technology, smaller scale plants can achieve high energy conversion efficiency and why the outlook for the EfW sector is promising

The European Commission is currently preparing a technical communication focusing on WtE aiming to explore the opportunities it offers, particularly with regard to synergies between resource and energy efficiency. The communication is scheduled to be published at the end of 2016 together with the reviewed Renewable Energy Directive. According to the Commission, the WtE Communication will aim to tackle the following issues:

- Lack of synergies between the WtE sector and EU policies

- Energy efficiency of the existing WtE processes - uneven capacity

- Untapped potential of waste-derived fuels - lack of clarity with regards to the waste hierarchy.

Q. In Kobelco’s view, what other issues (if any) should the communication address?

A. The proximity principle is important for reducing the transport distance for waste, which will help to reduce the carbon footprint and the overall cost. Thus a distributed model using small to medium scale energy from waste plants (100,000-200,000 tonnes per annum) could be beneficial. With the use of an appropriate technology, smaller scale plants can achieve high energy conversion efficiency.

The European Commission’s technical communication should address material recovery as well as energy efficiency. Material recovery is very much a part of the circular economy. The bottom ash generated by conventional energy from waste plants needs to be treated to remove or stabilise heavy metals before recycling and there are costs associated with this.

Kobelco’s gasification and melting process generates vitrified slag and incombustibles as by-products instead of bottom ash. The vitrified slag looks like black sand and is not leachable, the incombustibles are polished by sand and are clean with no fine particles so they can be recycled without further treatment, and without sacrificing the energy export.

Q. According to CEWEP (the European umbrella association of WtE plant operators) about 70 million tonnes of municipal waste alone is still being landfilled in the EU. What message would Kobelco give to countries that are still sending a high proportion of their municipal waste to landfill?

A. It is beneficial to turn ’waste’ into a ‘resource’ by using sustainable strategies that will preserve the environment for future generations.

Waste that cannot be reused or recycled can be used to generate renewable energy. Landfilling of waste is a missed opportunity.

In addition, landfilling of biodegradable waste generates methane gas which is over 20 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.

Q. Can you give details of the EfW services offered by Kobelco and why they are one of the most successful operators in the industry?

A. Kobelco is a technology provider for fluidised bed waste gasification plants. Kobelco focuses on product and performance: ensuring rigorous technical standards and optimising the supply chain to adapt to local market requirements. Kobelco has developed gasification and melting technology since the late 1990s to satisfy the requirements of the Japanese market. Kobelco’s experience gained from building 19 plants has enabled it to optimise and to prove this technology at the commercial level. Kobelco’s long-term experience and on-going research and development ensure that Kobelco stays at the forefront of the industry.

Q. Where does Kobelco operate?

A. Kobelco has built 17 commercial scale waste gasification plants in Japan and two in South Korea. Kobelco also has a number of plants in the advanced development phase in the UK.

Q. It has been alleged that in the next five years 500,000 tonnes of hazardous fly ash could be dumped into UK landfills. The increase of EfW plants is making a significant contribution to the UK’s efforts to end its reliance on harmful fossil fuels. But while these plants provide a solution to household waste, they also produce a hazardous waste in the form of fly ash. Despite existing clean solutions that process and reuse fly ash effectively, most is sent to landfill. How could Kobelco assist in reducing the amount of fly ash that goes to UK landfills?

A. Kobelco’s gasification and melting process generates vitrified slag and incombustibles instead of bottom ash, both of which can be recyclable as a secondary construction material. Air pollution control residue (APCr) from the flue gas treatment process contains heavy metal. Therefore it is categorised as hazardous, but at the same time it has potential to be used as a resource of heavy metals.

At the moment a number of Kobelco’s reference plants send this APCr to mining companies for the recovery of heavy metals.

Thus it is possible to operate Kobelco’s gasification and melting plants with zero waste to landfill. Currently Kobelco is developing technology to recycle the APCr as a resource for the cement industry.

Q. In Kobelco’s opinion, what does the future hold for the worldwide EfW sector? Is the outlook promising and why?

A. The outlook for EfW sector is promising. Increasing urbanisation, population growth and industrialisation will result in increased waste generation.

Governments in a number of countries around the world no longer consider the practice of open dumping to be acceptable.

Global economic development will lead to more money being spent to improve sanitation and the environment.

EfW is part of an integrated waste management system, together with reduce, reuse and recycling (the 3 Rs), for managing waste in a sustainable and low carbon manner.

Q. What lessons can Europe learn from Kobelco’s experience of EfW in Asia?

A. An important driver for the use of gasification and melting technology in Japan is the need to reduce the landfilling of incineration bottom ash because of the scarcity of landfills.

In Europe, especially in the big cities, diminishing landfills are a problem so Europe could learn from Kobelco’s experience of EfW in Japan with energy recovery, together with material recovery in the form of vitrified
slag and incombustibles. This is aligned with the circular economy approach.

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