Technology innovator speaks at Energy from Waste Expo
Advanced Plasma Power's chief executive Rolf Stein shares his thoughts ahead of Sustainability Live's new event. Nick Warburton reports
I understand you will be speaking about an advanced thermal conversion technology that your company has developed. What's the thinking behind it?
What we've developed is something to address a number of challenges and difficulties that exist with conventional waste to energy.
It is compact with a small footprint and has a low environmental and visual impact so the technology can be located close to waste arisings to reduce transport miles and costs but also close to heat users. We have process heat that can be exported to make combined heat and power a reality rather than having to site these plants in the middle of nowhere. That's a key design factor.
The other key driver is to obtain as much value from the residual material as possible as a fuel and materials resource. We remove recyclates, particularly metals, glass and dense plastics and from the balance extract as much value as possible as a source of energy.
We believe we have certainly one of, if not, the most efficient processes for the conversion of this residual material into electricity but not only electricity. We can also offer other, more flexible, solutions downstream and we are in particular focusing on the production of green gas.
Your technology converts waste into two products - a syngas and an inert product. What do you see as the end uses for both products?
We have two outputs. One is a syngas, which is essentially hydrogen, CO and some CO2. The other output is something that we have coined Plasmarok, which is a vitrified material. It's extremely hard and very low leaching in which any residual heavy metals and other contaminants are bound.
We have done very extensive testing on that material; we've had it classified as a product by the Environment Agency; and it has uses. One end use application is as an aggregate material for things like pipe bedding.
But there are also a couple of research initiatives that we are involved with, both with commercial and academic partners, which will look at and develop higher value applications for this material. We will be looking to classify it as a product for those end use applications as well.
How important do you think the energy from waste sector is to the UK economy?
In the context of the whole energy security and renewable energy debate, it has a role to play.
Taking high efficiency processes like ours, and allowing for other improvements in efficiencies like the gas engine and gas turbine and also fuel cell technologies, it is conceivable that if we were to take all of the residual waste that is currently produced, and allowing for an increase in recycling, we are talking about a contribution of about 5-10% of the UK's power potentially.
It's an extreme scenario but that just puts it into perspective. It's not an insignificant amount of power that could be produced.
If we were to overlay that with the residual waste that's sitting in landfill, some two billion tonnes in the UK, then there is a significant further opportunity for energy production and materials recovery. Waste to energy is an attractive option both from an energy security and a renewables standpoint.
I understand your technology also supports disposal routes higher up the waste hierarchy
We want to play our part. We designed the process around being complementary to recycling by having a materials recycling front-end to remove materials before they go into a thermal process.
We don't believe that inerts have any place in a thermal process and particularly metals, glass and dense plastics have a value. It's preferable to keep them out of the process, as opposed to mass burn which doesn't really discriminate, and you are left with a good quality, high biomass fuel.
That was very core to our design ethos. Any inorganics that do enter the thermal process are recovered as the Plasmarok product.
Your company is a partner with Group Machiels in a landfill mining project in Belgium. This sounds like an innovative approach to waste management.
The concept is relatively simple. This particular landfill site has been in operation for some 40 years. There are a lot of materials that can be recovered. The value of those materials more than meets the cost of extracting them.
What clearly you don't have, which any energy from waste projects would normally require, is a gate fee into the front end of the plant so you have to compensate that shortfall with a focus on the outputs.
It's important therefore that you maximise a) your electricity output, which led to our technology being chosen by the waste partner, and b) the availability of heat for export. This scheme depends to a significant degree on a greenhouse development utilising the heat to grow paprika.
Your company is clearly ambitious. What do you hope to achieve over the next year?
We are very much focused on getting our first commercial plants away. We don't feel at this stage in our evolution that it is going to be possible to fund the project on a merchant basis.
We are approaching it from a project finance point of view, structuring each project so that it has minimal risks for funders. That means long-term feedstock supply agreements with waste companies and it means power off-take agreements. That's our focus in the UK.
We're very confident that we have a technology that is future proof, which will continue to be able to deliver energy from residual waste at significantly reduced gate fees and therefore continue to be competitive.
Rolf Stein is speaking in theatre two on Tuesday 16 April at 11.50-12.05
The Energy from Waste Expo will be held at the NEC in Birmingham from 16-18 April. It is free to register: www.sustainability.com/register_efw
Nick Warburton is editor of LAWR