The local waste to energy climate has been slow to progress, but Martin Biopower is one company helping set the pace for change.
Waste to energy (WtE) has seen extensive progress since the first incinerator was built in Nottingham, UK in 1874. From thermal treatment processes which use forms of incineration to anaerobic digestion and fermentation, the range of WtE processes is growing rapidly.
By 2026, it’s expected there will be more than 2600 WtE plants with a capacity of about 435 million tonnes, according to consultancy firm ecoprog’s Waste to Energy 2017/2018 report.
As explained by ecoprog in 2016, much of the increase is predicted to come from Asia, with the European market resurging after more than a decade of prosperity.
However, the European Commission, which represents the European Union and proposes legislation, is tightening its restrictions to strengthen resource recovery.
According to Zero Waste Europe, the European Parliament voted in January to align its Renewable Energy Directive with the circular economy, strengthening the criteria for using waste and residues for energy production. The directive establishes the overall policy for producing renewable energy in the European Union.
In 2015, the European Commission issued directive COM(2015) 595 final which stipulated that by 2025, re-use and recycling of municipal waste from its member states would be a minimum of 60 per cent by weight. However, the weight of this municipal waste is understood as that which has been recovered or collected by recognised re-use operators, having undergone checking, cleaning and repairing for re-use. In other words, 60 per cent of municipal waste will have to be recycled into new materials, without exporting it to another source or country for further processing.
FOLLOWING THE HIERARCHY
Dr Gerhard Janssen, Chief Executive Officer, Martin Biopower Perth, says the European Commission’s decision shows Europe is serious about increasing resource recovery. Even though the current focus is on material recovery, he says WtE will have to be part of the equation, as landfilling is not an option.
“Very often cities make a decision that recycling is not doable due to a lack of sorting options or business structure. We have a situation in Australia right now where most of the material we call recycling is exported, which makes zero sense under the waste hierarchy.”
The waste hierarchy is commonly used around the world to highlight the order of material disposal. In sequential order it includes prevention, reducing, recovering and re-using, recycling, energy from waste, followed at last by disposal to landfill.
“When you transport waste in ships around the world to bring it to countries like China, Vietnam – you have to question whether it really is recycling. You put a lot of energy into the transport. The conditions under which the waste is being treated in these countries doesn’t correspond to our standards and where this waste finally ends up is questionable,” Gerhard says.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Waste Account 2013 shows Australia exported 4.4 million tonnes of waste valued at $2.4 million – or 0.8 per cent of the nation’s total exports. It makes little economic sense to Gerhard, who cites the success of WtE systems in European nations such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.
“In Germany, the paper and paper recycling industry forms an important part of the market. But at the stage it cannot be re-used, there is an end to that market, and that’s when it’s added to combustion,” Gerhard says.
While recycling is on a growth trajectory in Australia, Gerhard notes there is much work to do in increasing resource recovery in the country through a waste hierarchy.
“You can see the ongoing structure is changing worldwide and the perspective is through more responsible management of materials,” he says.
“A ban on landfill is certainly the most radical and straight-forward solution. But I understand from working in the last five years in Australia that they’re not fond of radical solutions.”
Martin Biopower is a joint venture with Martin GmbH and was established locally in Perth, Western Australia, in 2013, after discussions between local government and state politicians resulted in the call for a WtE technology provider. Martin GmbH has provided the latest technology for WtE power plants for more than 60 years and has developed facilities in Europe, Asia, South and North America and Africa. While Martin Biopower has yet to establish a WtE plant in Australia, it is involved in a variety of tenders and maintains partnerships with companies such as SUEZ as an engineering, procurement and construction supplier for turnkey plants.
The company specialises in providing solutions for thermal treatment through its reverse-acting grate Vario. It considers flexibility one of its most important traits, as it maintains the foresight to adapt to the economic and environmental climate over the more than 30-year lifespan of a WtE plant.
Gerhard sees great potential in Australia for WtE which has yet to be unlocked. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data, there were 114 bioenergy and WtE plants operating in Australia in 2015, with a total of 812 megawatts of installed capacity. Most established plants have less than 10 megawatts capacity. The resulting data was published in a 2015 market report by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).
“While the amount of waste diverted from landfill has generally increased in recent years, there is relatively little WtE recovered from urban waste in Australia other than in cement kilns, where some waste such as process-engineered fuels, oil and tyres are used as supplementary fuels,” the report says.
It says increasing landfill levies and a growing awareness of WtE in resource recovery can make a meaningful contribution to the nation’s energy mix and reduce the environmental and social costs of landfill. Estimates published in the report indicate WtE contributes to 0.9 per cent of Australia’s electricity output, well below the OECD average of 2.4 per cent. The CEFC estimates new bioenergy and WtE projects could prevent nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year by 2020, possibly contributing 12 per cent of Australia’s national carbon abatement task to 2020.
Gerhard says one solution to a lack of movement in the WtE field is to harmonise landfill levy legislation across the states and territories. Eurostat 2017 statistics, based on 2014 data, indicates WtE provides a complementary way to divert waste from landfill. Out of 28 European nations using WtE, 23 had higher rates of recycling and composting.
Gerhard says a land area of around 50,000 square metres is needed for a WtE plant capable of processing 250,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste per year. This corresponds to a waste throughput of around 31 tonnes per hour, with calorific values ranging from around eight to 15 megajoules per kilogram.
Martin Biopower’s reverse-acting grate Vario is the culmination of ongoing development. Martin engineers have carefully looked at Australian waste qualities to come up with a local solution that is efficient and meets the emissions standards required under the current European Industrial Emissions Directive for WtE plants.
Treatment of waste on the reverse-acting grate Vario begins at a bunker, where waste is stored for about three to five days. The waste is then transported by crane into a feed hopper. It travels by gravity through a feed chute and is transported onto the grate by a feeder that is controlled by the combustion control system. Combustion air flow and speed of the grate can be independently controlled in separate sections, depending on the waste composition.
“Combustion on the grate is monitored by an infrared camera. This picture, other online measurements and our vast experience will provide the optimum settings for the combustion system in order to guarantee an excellent burnout of the waste on the grate and of the flue gases.”
The flue gases pass through a waste heat boiler, where the energy is recovered in the form of steam and can either be used to generate electricity in a steam turbine generator set or used as thermal energy for a variety of industrial processes. He says Martin Biopower’s technology can also use the steam directly and transfer it to electricity for other businesses to use.
There are a variety of ways Martin Biopower can partner in a project, including working with infrastructure funds such as the CEFC, which help to provide funds to WtE facility proponents. It can also partner as a shareholder and work together on an investment structure, while also working through the public-private sector partnership.
Gerhard says one of the most ideal models for Australia is a plant jointly owned by several councils in the city of Roskilde, Denmark. This plant replaces more than 150,000 tonnes of other fuels, typically fossil-based. He says the emissions are well below the European Industrial Emissions Directive. More than 95 per cent of the energy in the waste is being recovered for re-use.
“Martin Biopower will give a fixed price for designing and building a WtE plant.
“Contracts for owning/operating a plant will run typically for 20 to 25 years, with waste amounts to be committed long-term but also treatment cost (gate fee) fixed. I think that’s a fact that is not mentioned enough. Some argue that 25 years is too long, but if you were to tell anybody that they would have the same price fixed for their car or electricity, they would be more than happy.”