As we progress to a renewable energy future, refuse derived fuel and waste to energy will increasingly reduce waste to landfill. It’s why commercial builder Total Construction has now entered the market.
Mechanical biological treatment systems have been processing biodegradable waste across the globe for more than 10 years. The concept, which combines sorting facilities with processes such as composting, is nothing new.
According to a 2007 report by German consultants Wasteconsult International, more than seven million US tons, equivalent to more than six million metric tonnes, of mixed municipal waste was treated annually in Germany.
Likewise, there are reports of refuse-derived fuel being used in the US since the early half of the 20th century, as indicated by a 1987 report by Harvey Alter, former manager of the Resource Policy Department of the US Chamber of Commerce.
Just over 10 years ago, the Waste Management Association of Australia finalised the EfW (Energy from Waste) Sustainability Guide, which provided a vision for a sustainable Australia with systems, facilities and infrastructure working together to recover valuable resources and energy. The South Australian Environment Protection Authority also developed a set of standards for the production and use of refuse-derived fuel in 2010.
As organisations and regulators pave the way for change in Australia, only now are we beginning to see a trend towards more alternative forms of waste infrastructure.
Over the past few years, we are starting to see a range of new facilities cropping up. For example, Veolia Group’s Mechanical Biological Treatment facility in the town of Tarago became fully operational in 2017.
Yarra Valley Water is also diverting 33,000 tonnes of commercial food waste from landfill annually to its energy to waste facility in Melbourne, which was commissioned in 2016 and operational by 2017.
It’s why commercial builder Total Construction has entered the waste industry. James Bolton, General Manager Renewable Energy Division, says the lines between renewable energy facilities and waste are increasingly blurring as municipal solid waste becomes a valuable resource.
“We’re no longer dealing with just transfer stations and landfills any more.
“In the past, construction companies were essentially building industrial sheds for the waste industry. Now facilities are high-tech processing plants. Specialist builders and consultants are required to ensure appropriate services and utilities are accounted for,” James says.
“There is potential to see an influx of waste infrastructure in Australia off the back of macroeconomic issues such as China’s ban on a range of plastics and limits on contamination.”
He says Total Construction is preparing for additional growth in this area over the next few years as many projects, currently undergoing stringent approvals, transition to a design, build and commissioning phase. The company is able to assist throughout all of these stages, including working on development applications and design, through to site management and building. James says Total Construction’s team draws on a wealth of knowledge in process engineering and renewable energy, which will have increasing relevance to the industry going forward.
With a background in chemical engineering and extensive experience in power generation, James’ own experience saw him work on major projects ranging from the project development of a waste to energy power plant to be located in Sydney’s Botany Bay to the construction of a district energy plant in Chippendale, part of the Central Park Development.
“We understand that when you’re building waste infrastructure, you’re dealing with corrosive and wet environments – and that hones our expertise in planning and risk management,” he says.
He says that Total Construction’s work often begins by managing the development application process for a client and advising them of any risk that could emerge. This may include additional costs that could be incurred post-approval.
“We work with the Department of Planning and the environmental regulator to ensure all aspects of the site are under control, from emissions reduction to air quality, leachate and catchment management and the noise of the facility,” James says.
“We want to reduce as many unknowns as possible. This may involve accounting for an additional 15 per cent contingency budget, or advising the client to install better odour control systems.”
With this in mind, the team at Total Construction is able to leverage its network of waste consultants across Australia should it require specific industry information. When the company helps with the design of a site, it ensures it aligns with the concept design, size of the plant, and anticipated machine throughput, person-hours, daily tonnage rates and processing capacity. It’s all a collaborative process for Total Construction, which also engages architects and electrical and structural engineers when required.
“The client will generally have in mind a design capacity and we will guide them through a preliminary design, identifying the limitations which evolve through that process,” he says.
He adds that a key challenge for site operators are the unexpected time constraints such as the ordering of technologies and/or equipment.
For example, an MBT site could require certain technologies to be imported from overseas and transported to site, which can take anywhere between six months to a year.
Total Construction is able to assist in anticipating these delays and help navigate this process with regulatory authorities.
With a vision to develop progressive waste management infrastructure, Total Construction hopes to position itself as a leader in the rapidly growing waste to energy market.
“Our point of difference is our ability to offer the whole process of design and construction in-house in a cost-effective manner,” James says.
“Risk mitigation is offered across the whole project as opposed to just individual sections or disciplines.”