On the 26th of February 2014 the Government published a revised version of ‘Energy from Waste – a guide to the debate’, a document which is intended “to provide a starting point for discussions about the role energy from waste might have in managing waste”.

The Government’s EfW Guide is available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/energy-from-waste-a-guide-to-the-debate

Importantly, the Government has added Chapter 5 “which considers the future policy direction for energy from waste”. According to the Guide, “This chapter does not set out any new policy but identifies underlying principles that are likely to continue as key considerations for both government and the sector in the future”.

Chapter 5 represents one of the most sceptical looks at incineration and RDF production taken by the UK Government to date, with recognition that as the electricity supply is decarbonised incineration will become increasingly worse in climate change terms.

Chapter 5 makes it clear that the only way for new electricity-only incinerators to emit fewer GHG emissions than landfill in the long term is to burn less fossil-derived material such as plastics, but that this should not come at the expense of recycling, composting and Anaerobic Digestion. As part of this, Chapter 5 highlights the importance of understanding how the feedstock will change over the lifetime of an incineration plant, and how this is impacted upon by actions higher in the waste management hierarchy.

Chapter 5 also makes clear the general unacceptability of incinerators that fail to meet the Waste Framework Directive definition of Recovery. This is bad news for the large number of Gasification and Pyrolysis plants currently proposed because they would be so inefficient that they would not meet the unambitious R1 Formula Threshold.

The EfW Guide makes clear that incinerators are Disposal unless demonstrated otherwise, placing them at the bottom tier of the Waste Management Hierarchy. Facilities with a Design Stage R1 Certificate from the Environment Agency are listed at the bottom of http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/business/sectors/143711.aspx

Chapter 5 of the EfW Guide sets out four “key principles which underpin policies now and are expected to remain critical in the future”:

  1. Energy from waste must support the management of waste in line with the waste hierarchy.
  2.  Energy from waste should seek to reduce or mitigate the environmental impacts of waste management and then seek to maximise the benefits of energy generation.
  3. Government support for energy from waste should provide value for money and make a cost effective contribution to UK environmental objectives in the context of overall waste management and energy goals.
  4. Government will remain technology neutral except where there is a clear market failure preventing a technology competing on a level footing.

Key considerations arising from the First Principle are summarised at Paragraph 235, as follows: “To be consistent with the principle of energy from waste supporting waste  management in line with the hierarchy, key considerations for the long term  development or operation of an energy from waste solution are: 

  • The ability to at least qualify as recovery in the waste hierarchy
  • To support and not compete with effective prevention, reuse and recycling and not be a brake on their growth
  • Meeting the requirements of the hierarchy will be an important test for any  policy or project aiming to increase the energy produced from waste
  • The energy from waste sector needs to think beyond its own boundaries working with partners along the supply chain. It must be flexible to changing waste composition or drive recycling and/or collection processes that allow it  to manipulate the composition of residual waste (the energy from waste feedstock) without compromising the above.”

According to Paragraph 250 of the EfW Guide: “To address these changes and meet the second principle of minimising environmental impacts key considerations for both new and existing plants going forwards will be:

  • Maximising the efficiency of existing plants to delay reaching, and avoid going beyond, any balance point
  • The sustainable lifetime of an electricity only plant will be limited and extending it beyond that originally envisaged may not be beneficial
  • Focus on development of energy outputs beyond electricity, both for new plants and ensuring existing plants that are ‘CHP ready’ becoming ‘CHP in use’
  • avoiding the use of waste in energy recovery with insufficient biogenic content to deliver environmental benefits, or capturing the environmental cost of doing so

According to Paragraph 258 of the EfW Guide: “To meet the second part of this principle, maximising energy benefits, key considerations are

  • Steering waste towards the most efficient plants/outputs on a lifecycle basis and away from less efficient solutions
  • Selecting sites that do not limit plants to only generating electricity i.e. sites in urban centres and/or close to heat users should be preferred to remote rural locations where opportunities to utilise heat may be more limited.
  • Delivery of wider energy policy goals and regulation”

According to Paragraph 268 of the EfW Guide: “To adhere to the principles key considerations for the production and use of refuse derived fuels are:

  • Ensuring the hierarchy is applied and the need to maintain biogenic content the fuel fraction is not done at the cost of potential recycling
  • Encouraging greater understanding of the biogenic content
  • Increasing biogenic content through removal of fossil waste not addition of biogenic waste
  • Ensuring material if exported delivers a better environmental outcome than domestic disposal”

According to Paragraph 276 of the EfW Guide: “To adhere to the first and second principles when considering energy from primarily fossil waste streams key considerations are:

  • Encouraging recovery of the resource rather than disposal
  • Disincentivising mixing with biogenic rich waste streams that could otherwise move up the hierarchy
  • Supporting energy recovery processes that deliver overall lifecycle benefits compared to raw materials
  • Ensuring recovery captures the environmental cost of the process where this is greater than landfill”

2 Responses to “EfW Guide Chapter 5 comes down hard on gasification and pyrolysis”

  1. Mechanical Biological Treatment through anoeorbic bacteria pods, with pyroliziation and gasification to produce energy appears to be far more sustainable than incineration, which you point out is polluting and produces tons of toxic ash to be used in the construction industry.
    The bi product is a ‘tar’ which can be used to fill potholes and resurface roads.

    This seems to be to be the only way forward at the moment. Recycling and reusing is always preferable, but there is an awful lot of black bin waste to be disposed of.

    Bristol Planning have now passed 3 incinerators at Avonmouth. One for London landfill??
    one with no waste (New Earth MBT is in use) and one for Clinical Waste with lime kilns,passed in 1994. Yr comments please

  2. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Susan. I do not agree that gasification is an acceptable or viable way forward, let alone the only way forward.

    Whatever the merits and demerits of gasification – and these are covered somewhat in http://www.ukwin.org.uk/files/pdf/UKWIN_Pyrolysis_and_Gasification_Briefing_Draft_May_2010.pdf – the truth is that we already have more committed residual waste treatment capacity than available combustible genuinely residual waste.

    There is no place for incineration (including gasification and pyrolysis) in a zero waste closed-loop circular economy, and no place for increased incineration capacity in our transition to such an economy. People should focus on the exit strategy for incineration, not whether one form of incineration should be preferred over another. We should not be asking, “how best should we treat residual waste” so much as “how best do we avoid residual waste”. If something cannot be recycled or composted then it should not be produced.

    Even if gasification could have lower emissions and could be made to work reliably, and experience from Dargavel and elsewhere put this into doubt, by the time such facilities were up and running we would already be experiencing significant residual waste treatment overcapacity. It would be much better to invest resources in approaches that would divert waste from the residual stream. As Paul Connett has been quoted as saying: “Even if you made ATT safe, you would never make it sensible.
    It simply doesn’t make sense to spend enormous amounts of money destroying resources we
    should be sharing with the future”.

    See http://ukwin.org.uk/2014/06/03/eunomia-report-reveals-incineration-overcapacity/ and http://ukwin.org.uk/2014/06/03/big-drop-in-landfilling/ and http://ukwin.org.uk/2014/05/20/efracom-evidence/ for information on the falling levels of residual waste, the recyclability of this waste, and the need to reduce this waste further by increased recycling and waste minimisation and separate collection for AD rather than getting further locked into expensive waste infrastructure that is a waste of resources and a barrier to the top tiers of the waste hierarchy.

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