Energy from waste (EFW) is a process that sees residual waste which cannot be reused or recycled turned into a useable form of energy. This can include electricity, heat and transport fuels, and can be done in a range of ways. However, as James Maiden explains, it is a market that is set to develop in innovative ways.
The landfill targets of the 1990s heralded a fresh dynamic in our relationship with waste. Almost overnight, recycling rates dramatically increased, while a new generation of EFW plants came on stream to meet the legislative requirements for ensuring we did not simply view waste as a something to fill a hole with.
Waste became a commodity, something to be traded, something that could be recycled or recovered and turned into energy.
A bright new future beckoned for recycling and EFW. However, while recycling via materials recycling facilities has progressed at a pace, developing our EFW capacity has been less triumphant – particularly in comparison to our European counterparts).
In short, our recovery activities are producing far more residual waste than our domestic EFW infrastructure can handle.
So, what do we do with this residue waste? Landfill is an unacceptable solution. There are, however, some ingenious logistical tactics that are finding a valuable home for this EFW feedstock fuel in the export market.
An increasing number of UK companies are looking towards the European market to maximise operational efficiencies and make the most of their waste. It is in this arena that Geminor has developed the use of ‘dead leg’ return journeys from sea freight operators, who are returning to their port of origin.
Previously, return journeys would be virtually freightless, aside from using seawater to act as ballast. However, seawater is now being part-replaced by baled refined residual waste (among other cargo), which is then sent to EFW facilities that are most in need of feedstock.
Where companies like Geminor distinguish themselves is through understanding European logistics, and the various port fees and licences, to utilise empty return journeys and then the relationship with continental state-of-the-art EFW plants that need feedstock to meet demand.
By sending waste to where it’s needed most, recovery facilities can be run at full capacity – ensuring the greatest possible efficiencies and maximising energy generated.
This now is a rapidly growing market that is helping the UK manage the residual waste it cannot process. It acts as a balancing device, while the UK market gears up its own EFW capacity, and it’s a market set to grow.
The export of refuse-derived fuel has grown from 9,000 tonnes in 2010 to 2,374,000 tonnes in 2014. In 2015, this reached 2,822,708 tonnes, and 2016 figures are 3,212,970 tonnes. In 2016, the Geminor Group itself handled a total of nearly 1,200,000 million tonnes of waste fuels.
In the UK, there remains political uncertainty at the pace of expansion for EFW incineration plants. The arguments are somewhat contradictory, with the UK remaining a net importer of energy, yet we have a surplus of waste that can be turned into energy that is being exported.
Waste directives which encourage disposal closest to source, and not necessarily through the most carbon reductive manner, also potentially muddy the political situation.
The UK is in the process of building a strong EFW infrastructure. However, while the UK continues to address these issues, the market will be increasingly reliant on European exports.
Indeed, with seasonality impacting on demand for heat, there will always be a demand for the export market and smart logistics companies that can utilise waste in a manner that is environmentally and financially beneficial.