EfW policy inertia is ‘damaging’ UK’s energy security ambition

There is a pressing need for the waste industry to work more collaboratively with government to fully exploit the energy potential of residual waste via heat networks, a leading expert has said.

Dr Stuart McLanaghan, who heads up his own eco-consultancy Eden 21, argues that a legacy of policy inertia is hindering the ability of highly efficient merchant energy-from-waste (EfW) plants to play a significant role in meeting the UK’s future energy needs.

“There is a need for much more strategic national focus where securing future UK energy supply is concerned,” he writes in his blog for Urban Mines, a not-for-profit resource management thinktank.

He says that more government intervention is necessary to determine how best heat markets can be accessed as standard for all local authority procurements involving the thermal treatment of residual waste.

“The potential benefits are significant, helping to stimulate green economic recovery and inner-city regeneration, and making a valuable contribution to decarbonising our national energy needs.”

According to Dr McLanaghan, a “facilities management approach” may be required to develop multi-waste fuelled facilities powered by municipal solid waste, sewage sludge and forestry residues, that can be integrated with heat and power distribution networks.

By usefully recovering waste heat in combined heat and power (CHP) plants, much greater efficiencies can be realised, he maintains. But the key challenge in realising this is the inability of developers to secure guaranteed heat contracts as part of current procurements.

“Such infrastructure would provide both the greatest overall recovery efficiency levels and hedge against undesirable consequences where much higher future recycling gains are concerned,” Dr McLanaghan observes.

He further maintains that circular economy model which discriminates against EfW is utopian and that such ambitions have limitations and that 100% closed loop recycling and zero waste is “unachievable”.

“Importantly, we are moving towards greater resource efficiency, but a more realistic view of a circular economy is that resources are efficiently retained within the productive economy, where losses to the environment are minimised.”

Dr McLanaghan’s full blog on the Urban Mines website can be found here

Maxine Perella

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