ENERGY FROM WASTEA RENEWABLE ENERGY
The waste stream consists of a number of components:
It might be considered ideal for all of the
above, with the exception of the biodegradable matter, to be reused
and recycled, and the biodegradable matter could be composted.
However, industrialised countries are a long way from reusing
or recycling a significant fraction of the current volume. The
economics of different activities affect what choices are made.
From European statistics, generation of energy from waste is compatible
with and accompanies greater volumes of recycling.
Energy from waste has been described as an unsustainable
form of energy production in that it would not be a significant
part of the ideal solution. However, the lifespan of these plants
is only two or three decades, and judged against currently-available
solutions, they must be recognised as having an important intermediate
role, as they not only deal with a waste problem, but also displace
carbon emissions from fossil-fuelled plant.
Energy from waste is an efficient method of
recovering both the biodegradable and non-biodegradable energy
content of waste. The result is that the non-combustible residue
from energy from waste can be as little as one tenth of the volume
of the original volume which would have been landfilled.
As Refuse Derived Fuels (RDFs) can be easily
transported, they can be burnt in CHP facilities, combining the
advantages of a renewable source of energy with the efficiencies
It is sometimes argued that energy from waste
should not be encouraged because it produces undesirable compounds
in the combustion process. Energy from waste is not by necessity
a polluting process, but one to which quality standards, including
derived fuels standards, must be applied. Furthermore, quality
standards can be defined which would apply to all solid waste
treatment, irrespective of the process.
It should be remembered that the UK disposes
of a small percentage of its municipal waste in energy to waste
plants compared to many other EU countries. In addition, the Government
has produced its Waste Strategy, which implies that 15 per cent
of Municipal Solid Waste will be used in energy from waste plants
by 2010. It is interesting to note that very few of the energy
from waste NFFO contracts have come forward. This is principally
due to the above points allied to the difficulty in obtaining
It is unclear how future costs of contracts
and technologies in the energy from waste and waste disposal industry
will develop. The Government should not seek to favour one renewable
technology over another. It should seek to ensure a level playing
field so that the most efficient forms of renewable energy are
brought first to the energy market. It is the duty of environmental
and health agencies to ensure that high pollution standards are
Any quality standards applying to solid waste
maximise the opportunities to reuse
or recycle waste materials;
minimise the pollutants (airborne,
aqueous, and solid) liberated from different classifications of
value the energy recovered (energy
recognise the legacy implications
of leaving potential contaminants untreated.
A further aspect of commercial viability is
the degree of risk that is involved with bringing the product
to market. Normally a product is only normally thought of as being
commercially viable when it is known to work. Certain types of
energy from waste may be regarded as proven technology, but there
are other technologies that should achieve improved environmental
performance and energy efficiency that are not proven at full
scale. Gasification or pyrolysis of waste are examples of technologies
that need to be proven at full scale and in a commercial environment.
Simply because one technology that utilises a certain fuel is
regarded as proven does not imply that all technologies that utilise
that fuel are proven, and hence, it is not correct to state that
all technologies utilising that fuel are commercially viable.
There is no reason to exclude all technologies that utilise that
same fuel from support. For example, using the logic implied by
excluding energy from waste from the Obligation, there would be
no need to support offshore wind projects with grants because
onshore wind projects do not require them. The suggested policy
is inconsistent in its treatment of different renewables.
There is no logic in excluding energy from municipal
and industrial waste but including landfill gas and energy produced
from waste products produced by agriculture and forestry. Recovering
energy from waste wood or waste paper, where both have been derived
from managed resources, is environmentally little different from
growing trees to use as the fuel for a biomass plant. Part of
the argument seems to be that energy from waste prevents recycling
but this argument is not sound. It is perfectly possible to specify
recycling targets such that what is left to go into energy from
waste plants cannot sensibly be recovered in any other way. Further,
energy from waste can be set up in a way which enhances the recycling
of items such as glass and metals. Setting such targets for recycling
is a matter for waste management policy not energy policy. The
alternatives to energy from waste for many waste products are
landfill and composting, both of which release greenhouse gases.
All forms of renewable energy using combustion technology release
greenhouse gases at the point of combustion and many require the
use of fossil fuels, either in harvesting and delivering the renewable
fuel to the plant, for flame stabilisation or converted chemically
into fertiliser. However, despite these imperfections, they produce
significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil-fuelled
power plants. This includes energy from waste.
Energy from waste plants deal with many of the
problems of the solid waste stream, and produce electricity from
primarily renewable sources. Even fossil-based waste streams,
primarily plastics, are used at least once before combustion,
which is a 100 per cent improvement on the fuel use of petrochemicals.
The UK Government accepts energy from waste
as part of its Kyoto solutionand the grounds given for
its exemption from the Obligation are that it does not need financial
support. It is not a sustainable argument that new energy from
waste plants will be built if it is not included in the Obligation.
The impact of excluding energy from waste from
the Obligation should not be under-estimated. Energy from waste
developments represent such a large part of the project finances
companies' renewable energy portfolios, that the exclusion of
energy from waste might mean that teams are disbanded, leading
to less development of renewable energy generally.