Veolia sets WtE benchmark

Veolia Australia and New Zealand is drawing on local and international experts in the lead up to its 25-year operations and maintenance contract on Australia’s first thermal waste-to-energy facility. 

Waste-to-energy (WtE) in Australia has historically been slow to progress, but Veolia recently set a new precedent for the sector.

Earlier this year, construction began on Australia’s first thermal WtE facility. Based in Kwinana, WA, the site will be operated and maintained (O&M) by Veolia Australia and New Zealand post-construction for 25 years.

Leveraging its experience in operating more than 65 WtE plants across the globe, Veolia stands ready to spearhead efficient, effective and economically viable renewable energy solutions.

Avertas Energy was named the supplier and will process 400,000 tonnes of waste, equivalent to a quarter of Perth’s post-recycling residuals. In addition, Avertas Energy will generate and export 36 megawatts of green electricity to the local grid per year, enough to power more than 50,000 households.

As the preferred supplier of baseload renewable energy, Avertas Energy will also support the green energy needs of the Western Australia Local Government Association (WALGA) and its members.

Macquarie Capital and the Dutch Infrastructure Fund (DIF) are co-developing the Kwinana plant, now known as Avertas Energy. Infrastructure company Acciona was appointed to design and construct the facility.

Veolia’s global experience will see it leverage the expertise of international engineers, project and site managers.

Veolia’s Toby Terlet in front of a 25 megawatt generator at its WtE plant in Birmingham, UK.

As the company operates 10 facilities in the UK, these sites served as the perfect methodology to replicate to local conditions.

One of Veolia’s oldest WtE facilities is its Birmingham plant in the UK and it was there that Veolia’s Project Director for Kwinana, Toby Terlet, gained significant experience.

Drawing on previous experience in Australia with Veolia, Toby moved to the UK in 2014.

Toby tells Waste Management Review that around five years ago, thermal treatment was still being discussed in Australia as an emerging technology.

“At the time, I didn’t know much about converting municipal waste into electricity, although I did have some experience with manufacturing waste-derived fuels for cement kilns and clinical incineration,” Toby explains.

Toby saw the UK experience as an eye-opener, with Britain up to 25 years ahead of Australia in WtE.

After Veolia won the O&M contract on the Kwinana project, Toby returned to Australia to a project director role based in the site’s heartland in Perth.

In the lead up to 2021 and over the life of the contract, Veolia’s network of on-call local and international expertise will help anticipate and prevent issues ahead of time.

Toby says that having a general understanding of how WtE facilities operate and the effort needed to maintain a facility will help achieve more than 90 per cent availability.

“The technology works well. However, it’s just as important to have skilled and experienced operations and maintenance teams to run the facilities,” Toby says.

“Education about the treatment of waste can always be improved.  Birmingham is a positive example of how recycling, reuse and WtE can coexist. We need to better educate people on where WtE fits and how it provides an alternative to landfill.”

While WtE will continue to be a better option to utilise stored energy than landfilling, Toby says this needs to be complemented with a strong education program.

“I believe the process will slowly shift towards waste being converted to electricity through WtE rather than sitting in a landfill for the next 100 years,” Toby says.

“Segregating waste at the front end will always be the best option, complemented with the most economically viable technology to pull out things which may have been missed. This is the ongoing challenge for Australia.”

His passion for WtE as a viable solution within a waste hierarchy inspires him to break the stigma surrounding it.

“One of the biggest misconceptions around WtE is that it will burn anything. This is what I thought prior to leaving Australia. It didn’t take long to understand that waste is a fuel and needs to be blended to provide the right consistency based on the calorific value (CV).”

Toby says that obtaining the optimum CV will also be an ongoing challenge to work through. Wastes such as MRF residue have a high CV and this can create spikes in the heat transfer lowering throughput, so it’s about finding the right balance.

To make the project economically viable and provide financial close, supply agreements will start at the minimum amount of waste needed.

“The majority of volumes are contracted for a long period of time and some projects opt for smaller agreements to cover any shortage. I think based on a large number of states currently having issues with a reliable source of electricity, green energy production will be high on the agenda.”

While it’s still early days for the project’s construction and planning, piling recently finished with the civil works with concreting now well under way.

Looking to the future, Toby says stakeholders will identify all design improvements throughout the next 12 months to ensure the Kwinana project is the most efficient not only in Australia, but around the globe when handed over in late 2021.

“I’ll be proud to recruit the best O&M team for the project who will have the utmost dedication to safety and a passion to make a difference and spread the positive energy needed to make more of these facilities possible,” Toby says.

“This is just the start of Veolia’s determination to drive the circular economy approach and resource the world by identifying and developing complementary projects to better utilise resources which are currently going to landfill.”

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