Waste: the power behind our future cities

The Martin GmbH Brescia Plant, Lombardia, Italy
Martin Biopower’s CEO sees a bright future for waste to energy plants in Australia to tackle waste management and power generation challenges, using an Italian plant as a working example.

At the recent Australian Industrial Ecology Network conference, Professor Dr Gerhard Janssen had a clear message for the audience: “If an organisation is looking for
 a radical solution to reduce methane and hazardous outcomes in waste management they cannot ignore waste to energy.”

Gerhard is the CEO of Martin Biopower – the Australian arm of German-headquartered Martin GmbH. One of the world’s leaders in waste to energy (W2E) technology, including consulting, design and build for turnkey projects, the company was established in Munich in 1925. It is responsible for more than 430 plants around the world.

Martin Biopower was established in Australia to bring its expertise in helping the country to address waste management needs.

Suitability for treating waste 
in Australia

The Martin W2E plants allow for changes in the waste stream, which is attractive to investors considering the long-term future of such a waste treatment option.

The Martin Reverse-Acting Grate Vario (V-type) is part of its technology offering. A progression of its original system, it offers flexibility around the types of waste that a W2E plant can expect to experience in an operational life of over 30 years.

“The grates can be adjusted to suit the varying requirements of different fuels by changing the speed of waste feed and combustion conditions,” explains Gerhard.

The newer system also does away with the need to cool the grate as
a constant covering protects the equipment from excessive thermal loads. It also allows for modular construction, as consecutive runs can be installed up to about 15 metres.

“Our plants can handle all sorts of municipal solid waste (MSW), including general domestic, commercial and industrial,” states Gerhard. “They can treat any material that shouldn’t be landfilled in the waste hierarchy after reuse and recycle.”

The technology with these waste to energy plants is good for the environment, and especially so when compared against the impacts of landfills.

“It takes methane out of the cycle, and therefore considerably reduces the CO2 footprint of waste management operations,” Gerhard says. “Emissions aren’t an issue, as they fall well below the acceptable European level, which
is the highest benchmark to meet. No industry is regulated more than waste to energy, and our plants always perform better than the relevant standards.”

The process also has recycling benefits, as metals such as iron, copper and aluminium are discharged with the bottom ash so can be recovered. “Metal recyclers love our plants,” adds Gerhard.

The footprint of a plant with one incineration line is usually between 40,000 and 50,000 square metres; the space required increases to about 80,000 square metres to allow two or more lines.

Reliable, long-lasting technology

The facilities also have low operational costs for the volume of waste material processed and energy generated. For a typical W2E plant operated 24/7 for at least 8,000 hours per year per line, taking into account the need for functions including mechanical and electrical maintenance, incoming waste reception, and administration, it can run with between 40 and 60 employees.

Gerhard emphasises that this is a reliable technology that can work for more than 30 years, provides high electrical efficiency and a good return on investment for the long term.

“You can enter a long-term agreement with a client or group or organisations to use the offtake from the plant as part of the waste service agreement, or agree a contract to produce electricity for a long-term period for a fixed price, so there is continuity,” says Gerhard.

In terms of maximising the efficiency of such technology in Australia, Gerhard says it works best in the centre of a modern industrial estate, where there are businesses such as food processing, recycling, industrial laundries, that can supply some of the waste stream and use the offtake in their processes. This model is currently working in Switzerland and Germany.

“There would be scope to use the steam for heating and cooling next
to airports, office centres and central business districts,” adds Gerhard. “There are no troublesome emissions, so these plants can be closer to cities. It can be used in of-grid solutions
for heating and cooling as there is an offtake around the clock.”

Gerhard says the company has many facilities that are operational in other countries that are relevant to the Australian market. One such facility is at Brescia, northern Italy.

The Brescia plant: an Australian possibility

Brescia is a city in the Lombardia region with about 200,000 inhabitants. Its wider region encompasses nearly half a million people and is a largely industrial area.

The Brescia W2E plant is owned and operated by large Italian firm A2A. In 2006, Waste to Energy Research and Technology Council judged it the best W2E plant in the world in its industry awards.

According to Gerhard, the plant’s core technologies – the grate, boiler and flue gas treatment – are very similar to what it would offer in Australia.

Besides MSW and biomass, a plant like Brescia can also handle waste streams like commercial and industrial and construction and demolition, as well as sewage sludge in certain percentages. This makes the technology particularly suitable to Australian conditions, where compliance with source separation can often be low.

“Waste to energy plants using grate systems for incineration do not require any kind of pre-sorting or pre- treatment,” explains Gerhard. “Waste is fed into the combustion system as
it is arrives by the collecting trucks. An exception is only bulky waste, like furniture, which will have to be shredded on site.”

The Brescia plant has three lines, each of which can process 42.2 tonnes of waste per hour, or more than 1,000 tonnes a day.

Communities, such as Brescia, have W2E plants integrated into industrial park developments as an efficient, reliable source for energy. The electricity offtake can be used directly by consumers and households in the neighborhood and by the grid.

“In Brescia, they use that for district heating, but in Australia it could be used for district cooling or for industries that need large amounts of energy.”

The Brescia example also demonstrates the huge impact
on reducing landfill and revenue possibilities from assimilating waste treatment for a large industrial and urban area.

The total plant treats around 750,000 tonnes of MSW each year, feeding around 560 GWh of electricity and around 800 GWh of thermal energy into the respective grids.

“Aside from gate fees, the operator has several opportunities to create
an income,” adds Gerhard, “by using the recycled bottom ash, selling the electricity to neighbours or the grid, providing steam to direct clients, and selling the non-ferrous and ferrous metals into the scrap market.”

Making it work in Australia

When it comes to the context where
a Martin Biopower W2E plant would work best in Australia, Gerhard says the circumstances can vary, but a facility handling 100,000 tonnes a year or more where the offtake is sold to the local grid or industrial businesses would pay its way.

“We believe the structure would
work for large private investors
 and the country’s largest waste and environmental solutions companies here in Australia, whether that’s on build and operate or build and handover basis,” states Gerhard.

Martin Biopower is currently at the feasibility stage for three projects in Australia, one in the Perth area and two in NSW. Gerhard says a major bridge to cross in Australia is winning over communities where plants could be built, mainly through education about the emissions being safe and the positive impact for the environment.

The main issues to overcome are trucks coming into neighbourhoods
to deliver the waste (which can be avoided if there is a railway connection nearby) and showing there are no odours and emissions, which the company has done previously with site tours for interested companies.

“When the community accepts a plant, then it works,” Gerhard says.

Martin Biopower also emphasises the cost-efficiency and environmental benefits of W2E over landfill sites that municipalities and waste management organisations need to consider.

“When you close a landfill, you have to look after it for the next 30 years
or more, even though it’s no longer operational,” says Gerhard. “What we deliver is something to support the circular system, reducing the CO2 footprint of a city.”

Despite the many factors in the technology’s favour, Gerhard says for W2E to take off in Australia, landfill levies need to increase significantly 
to recognise the reduction in environmental impact so it’s a fair playing field. He says some states are acting more than others, but it isn’t happening quick enough.

Gerhard concludes. “Federal and state governments need to come together from a logical, not political, position for waste to energy to be viable for any operator.”

More information on Martin Biopower’s technology is on the website or send direct queries to gerhard.janssen@martinbiopower.com.

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