Nothing Need Go to Waste: Convert it to Energy

Municipal solid waste represents one of the biggest challenges in sustainable development, with increasing living standards and urban populations.  A recent World Bank report shows that this waste is projected to increase by 70% globally between now and 2025. One of the best approaches to deal with the growing waste mountain is to convert it to energy. Nothing needs to go to waste, as an article by Ken Hickson for CleanEnviro Summit Singapore shows. Read more

New report points to 70% global increase in urban solid waste

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2012 – A new, far-reaching report on the state of municipal solid waste around the world predicts a sharp rise in the amount of garbage generated by urban residents between now and 2025.  The report estimates the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) will rise from the current 1.3 billion tonnes/year to 2.2 billion tonnes/year, with much of the increase coming in rapidly growing cities in developing countries. The annual cost of solid waste management is projected to rise from the current $205 billion to $375 billion, with cost increasing most severely in low income countries.

The report, What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, for the first time offers consolidated data on MSW generation, collection, composition, and disposal by country and by region. In itself, this is an accomplishment because, as the report states, reliable global MSW information is either not available or incomplete, inconsistent, and incomparable. Nevertheless, the authors of the report point to a looming crisis in MSW treatment as living standards rise and urban populations grow.

“Improving solid waste management, especially in the rapidly growing cities of low income countries, is becoming a more and more urgent issue,” said Rachel Kyte, Vice President, Sustainable Development at the World Bank. “The findings of this report are sobering, but they also offer hope that once the extent of this issue is recognized, local and national leaders, as well as the international community, will mobilize to put in place programs to reduce, reuse, recycle, or recover as much waste as possible before burning it (and recovering the energy) or otherwise disposing of it. Measuring the extent of the problem is a critical first step to resolving it.”

The report notes that municipal solid waste management is the most important service a city provides. In low-income countries, MSW is often the largest single budget item for cities, and one of the largest employers. A city that cannot effectively manage its waste is rarely able to manage more complex services such as health, education, or transportation. Improving MSW is one of the most effective ways of strengthening overall municipal management.

The report shows that the amount of municipal solid waste is growing fastest in China (which surpassed the US as the world’s largest waste generator in 2004), other parts of East Asia, and part of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Growth rates for MSW in these areas are similar to their rates for urbanization and increases in GDP. There is a direct correlation between the per capita level of income in cities and the amount of waste per capita that is generated. In general, as a country urbanizes and populations become wealthier, the consumption of inorganic materials (e.g. plastics, paper, glass, aluminum) increases, while the relative organic fraction decreases.

“What we’re finding in these figures is not that surprising,” said Dan Hoornweg, Lead Urban Specialist in the Finance, Economics, and Urban Development Department of the World Bank and eco-author of the report, “What is surprising, however, is that when you add the figures up we’re looking at a relatively silent problem that is growing daily. The challenges surrounding municipal solid waste are going to be enormous, on a scale of, if not greater than, the challenges we are currently experiencing with climate change. This report should be seen as a giant wake-up call to policy makers everywhere.”

The authors of the report say an integrated solid waste management plan is needed in cities to approach solid waste in a comprehensive manner. Key to such a plan is consultation and input from all stakeholders, including citizen groups and those working on behalf of the poor and the disadvantaged. Public health and environmental protection aspects of any such plan are also critical.

The report also spells out policy recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, many of which emanate from inefficient solid waste management practices. Post-consumer waste is estimated to account for almost 5% of total global GHG, while methane from landfills represents 12% of total global methane emissions. The report says that a number of practical approaches could be applied in most cities, including:

·         Public education to inform people about their options to reduce waste generation and increase recycling and composting;

·         Pricing mechanisms (such as product charges) to stimulate consumer behaviour to reduce waste generation and increase recycling;

·         User charges tied to the quantity of waste disposed of, with (for example) consumers separating recyclables paying a lower fee for waste disposal; and/or

·         Preferential procurement policies and pricing to stimulate demand for products made with recycled post-consumer waste.

For a link to the report, click here:


Waste Not, Want Not: In a Throwaway Society, More Rubbish Produces More Energy

By Ken Hickson

In a land-scarce urbanised society like Singapore, Waste To Energy (WTE) plants are seen to offer the best technical solution by reducing waste volume efficiently to conserve landfill space and also contribute significantly to resource recovery.   Along with waste minimisation and recycling, it becomes another key component of the city state’s integrated solid waste management system.

Singapore has found that waste-to-energy incineration as most cost effective option too, as it can reduce waste volume by over 90%.  In 1978, the first waste-to-energy (WTE) plant was opened and today the solid waste disposal infrastructure consists of the four WTE plants located at Tuas, Senoko, Tuas South and an offshore sanitary landfill, Semakau Landfill.

Singapore is not alone in this regard. WTE technologies are recognised globally as offering cost-effective, near-term solutions for producing base-load electric power, meeting renewable energy targets and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Stan Rosinski of the United States-based  Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) says WTE plants also present opportunities for improving resource management practices, increasing energy security, enhancing environmental quality, and supporting climate policy goals around the world.

Waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies convert the chemical energy stored in residues associated with human activities into heat, steam, and electricity. Primary fuel sources include municipal solid waste (MSW) and other materials diverted from disposal facilities as well as gases rich in methane that are generated when organic substances decompose in the absence of oxygen.

Globally, WTE capacity has expanded significantly in recent years, according to EPRI, driven largely by policy considerations. In 1999, the European Union directive essentially banned the landfilling of combustible MSW fractions in order to control methane emissions, avoid non-productive use of land and other resources, and prevent water and soil contamination.

In Europe, Asia, and elsewhere, such policies—along with climate change mitigation and renewable energy targets—have motivated the construction of hundreds of mass-burn incinerators, the early commercial application of various advanced thermal conversion technologies, and the proliferation of smaller-scale landfill gas (LFG) and digester gas systems.

Frequently, these WTE plants supply heat or are combined heat and power (CHP) facilities; in fact, 18% of the district heating load in Denmark is served by MSW combustion.

What is going on in the development of WTE technologies globally?

The CleanEnviro Summit Singapore and WasteMET (1 – 4 July) at Marina Bay Sands will be showcasing a numerous examples of WTE plants and processes from companies located in Asia and elsewhere.

Advanced biofuels that use waste feedstocks to deliver a low carbon footprint and do not compete with food crops are entering a critical stage of development as a number of new facilities prepare to enter service.

Here’s a glimpse at just some of the latest developments in WTE around the world:

•             Waste to ethanol produced from demo plant in Canada

Waste to biofuels company Enerkem has confirmed the successful production of cellulosic ethanol from waste materials at its demonstration facility in Westbury, Québec.  While the company has produce ethanol on a smaller scale at a pilot plant in Sherbrooke, the Westbury demonstration is a stepping stone to full scale commercial deployment in Edmonton and other locations. This technology has been developed and tested during the past 11 years, at both the pilot laboratory facility in Sherbrooke, Québec, and the Westbury demonstration plant.

•             Anaerobic Digestion to Biogas Fuel Facility underway in California

Construction work has started on a commercial scale Anaerobic Digestion (AD) and Biogas facility in California that could fuel 80 buses a year. Clean World Partners’ (CWP) Organic Waste Recycling Center at the South Area Transfer Station in Sacramento will convert 25 tons of food waste per day collected by Atlas Disposal from food processing companies, restaurants and supermarkets into renewable natural gas. In 2013, the facility will be expanded to process 100 tons of waste per day, which CWP said will make it the largest commercial-scale, high solids AD system in the United States.

•             Vehicle fuel made from organic waste products in the Philippines.

London, UK based waste to biofuel specialist, Gazasia is to begin development of a vehicle fuel made from organic waste products from landfill. It has signed an agreement with Philippine power, financial services and food group, Aboitiz Equity Ventures that secures US$150 million of investment to fund the development of plants to create liquid biomethane from organic waste.The company said by cleaning and refining the natural gas produced by organic waste found in landfill sites it can create liquid biomethane – a carbon-neutral, sustainable and high-quality vehicle fuel.

•             160 Million Euro French Algae Project Targets Biofuels from Wastes

French agricultural research organisation, the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) has launched a 160 million Euro collaborative platform aimed at developing efficient biofuels and high added value substances by utilising micro-algae feeding on nutrients contained in waste and industrial emissions of carbon dioxide.  Led by INRA in collaboration with 45 partners , the ‘GreenStars’ project aims at becoming, within five to ten years, one of the top Institutes of Excellence worldwide in the field of micro-algae bio-refinery. The Institute said that Microalgae – a group of microscopic plant like organisms – have shown great potential to offer low carbon energy, chemicals, food and feed due to their unique composition, but their potential has yet to be fully realised. INRA experts anticipate that we will see major breakthroughs in the production and use of microalgae over the next decade, which is why more than $2 billion has been invested in microalgae research and development.

•             Canadian Gasified Waste to Biofuels Firm Selects Construction Partner

Canadian wood waste to biofuel specialist, CORE BioFuel has selected French engineering and project management firm, Technip to complete the construction engineering of its first wood to gasoline biorefinery. CORE said that the facility is planned to produce 67 million litres of renewable gasoline and create over 20 million litres of water each year from wood waste.  Its technology is based on proven industrial equipment and processes combined in a novel and efficient fashion to produce a valuable products from biomass.

•             Green Diesel from Scrap Tires Using Slow Pyrolysis

Pyrolysis creates renewable fuels by degrading waste tires in a high-temperature, oxygen starved environment. Diesel fuel is the primary by-product of this process while synthetic gas or “syngas” is produced as a secondary benefit. A small portion of the syngas is then used to fuel modified diesel engines, or gas/steam turbines which in turn drive the generators that produce all the electricity needed to power the facility. Energime has a verbal commitment for 1200 tons of tires per week for this facility and is currently negotiating one of three tire feedstock agreements for this project including one source that will provide 100,000 tons per year at an average .

•             Converting liquid waste to energy  in urban areas of India

An estimated 55 million tonnes of municipal solid waste and 4400 million cubic meters of liquid waste are generated in urban areas of India annually with a potential of 2600 MW of power production. Currently only 84MW of power is produced against total potential of 1000 MW from agricultural waste. With growing government support and demand for renewable and sustainable energy supplies for the future, demand is greater than ever and the potential in this industry sector continues to encourage an evolution of new processing methods and technologies to leverage the industries opportunities and current project developments. Most waste generated by Indian industries still finds way to land and water bodies in large quantities, without proper treatment, emitting various CXO gases, air and water pollution, and increase in GHG emissions. Currently 130MW produced against total potential of 2000 MW.

•             British Airways to get jet bio fuel from London rubbish

The Solena and British Airways partnership is providing the first such plant to produce jet biofuel in Europe. Located in East London close to the source of the municipal waste and close to British Airway’s operations in the South East (the nearest airport is London City), when the plant is in full operation in 2014, 200 permanent jobs will be created. This will be the first development of its kind in Europe, and should provide a proven pathway for a number of other global cities to generate valuable resources from waste. The partnership was formed in 2009, when the two companies agreed to work together to develop a unique project for London. Solena, a renewable energy technology company based in Washington DC, offered a pathway to sustainable aviation fuels by converting waste biomass into fuels, renewable energy and heat.

A great source of information on WTE – including some items in this article – is the magazine and e-newsletter Waste Management World, which is devoted entirely to presenting articles of interest to the industry. For more information go to:

Waste to Energy is just one of the important issues and opportunities being showcased in Singapore. For the full programme details of all CleanEnviro Summit Singapore events and to see who’s attending and participating, go to:

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