The Economist Talks Trash

The Economist has noted the growing interest in turning trash into electricity through the use of electric plasma torches in a recent article.  Stating that burying trash "is old-fashioned and polluting", the article looks at the technical ability and profitability of plasma-based technologies to manage municipal solid waste.  More than three dozen American firms are proposing plasma-torch syngas plants, according to Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, a waste consultancy based in Fairfax, Virginia (and ERC member).  While no plasma facilities currently operate in the United States, this article demonstrates the concentrated effort of many companies to make this technology work on a commercial scale.  In short, it shows that household trash is a valuable energy source and the business of making energy from waste has a bright future.

British Report Favors WTE as a Means to Environmental Protection

Waste management should be central to the government's green economy strategy as it offers massive commercial opportunities as well as significant environmental gains, according to a report published today by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). The report, entitled 'Making Ends Meet: Maximising the value of waste', says increasing the adoption of waste to energy technologies would reduce carbon emissions and help bolster the UK's energy security, while also reducing the risk of breaching EU landfill targets. According to the report, around 2,000 new waste management facilities will need to be built by 2020 to replace the 300 landfill sites due to close over the next decade. However, it warns that the £10bn of private sector investment required to build new waste-to-energy plants and recycling facilities will not be forthcoming without clearer signals from government to investors. More certainty over planning, improved data on commercial and industrial waste levels, and an integrated local policy to help different councils deliver zero waste policies will be required to drive private investment, the report warns. The report can be downloaded here.

Copenhagen Pursues a Novel Approach to WTE Design

A newly proposed $650 million waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen, Denmark is taking facility design to new heights by incorporating a public rooftop ski slope into the design. Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has been selected as the winner of an international competition to replace the 40 year old industrial Amagerforbraending plant in Copenhagen. BIG has encouraged an active relationship between the new plant and the public by utilizing vacant roof space as a ski slope. The lift ride to the top of the stack will offer visitors a glimpse into the internal activities of the plant.  The ski slope is not the only interesting "new" feature focused on the stack.  Every time one ton of fossil CO2 is released, the smokestack will discharge a 30 meter smoke ring into the air as a gentle reminder of the impact of consumption and a measuring stick that will allow the common Copenhagener to grasp the CO2 emission in a straightforward way. After dark, heat tracking lights will continue to illuminate these smoke rings (which are depicted in the rendering to the right.

Waste to Energy Revenue to Hit $13.6 Billion by 2016

According to a new report from Pike Research entitled “Waste-to-Energy Technology Markets”, worldwide revenues from WTE systems will enter a period of strong growth by 2012, increasing from $3.7 billion in 2010 to nearly $13.6 billion by 2016. “Waste-to-energy plants serve an important dual purpose,” says Pike Research president Clint Wheelock. “They help alleviate the growing municipal solid waste problem, while simultaneously providing much-needed renewable energy and heat sources to local populations. Energy from waste contributes to energy security and diversification, and matches the growing demand for renewable energy in a carbon constrained world.”

Today, more than 900 thermal WTE plants operate around the world and treat an estimated 0.2 billion tons of MSW with an output of approximately 130 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity. Combustion is currently the leading WTE technology and is entrenched in the market. However, advanced thermal treatment (ATT) technologies such as plasma-arc gasification are emerging in the market, and biological technologies for treating waste also offer an attractive alternative to thermal WTE methods.

Pike Research’s study analyzes the global market opportunity for waste-to-energy technologies as a means of generating electricity and heat from municipal solid waste. The study includes a comprehensive examination of economic and market drivers, existing and emerging technology options for WTE, the public policy and regulatory environment, and key industry players. Market forecasts, segmented by geography and technology category, extend through 2016.

New Ontario WTE Facility is Approved

After years of planning, the deal to construct a waste-to-energy facility that will turn York and Durham Region's garbage into energy is done. York Regional chairperson Bill Fisch and Durham chairperson Roger Anderson signed the agreement after the two regional councils gave their chairpersons authority to sign the contract with Covanta Energy to expedite the project. This action follows approval by the province's environmental authority. Environment Minister John Wilkinson's approval came with "strict conditions" attached. The total cost is projected at $278 million. Construction is expected to start next year, with the plant opening in 2014.