Waste to energy could provide 17 per cent of UK electricity

A joint report from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Renewable Power Association (RPA) has called for greater use of energy from waste plants in the UK.

The report claims that there is the opportunity for certain types of waste to produce up to 17% of electricity generated in the UK by 2020 and that producers of energy from waste should be eligible to receive renewable obligation certificates (ROCs).

Around 30 million tonnes of household rubbish was sent to landfill in England alone in 2003. The report states that more than half of this could be used to create power as a large majority of such waste is recognised in the EU as a source of renewable energy.

“Instead of burying rubbish that is left after recycling it can be used to create electricity through a variety of measures,” said Peter Gerstrom, Chairman of ICE’s Waste Management Board.

He pointed out that the UK is unlikely to meet its renewables target of producing 10% of energy from renewable sources by 2010. In addition, we are producing more waste all the time.

“Waste into energy will have environmental performance benfits by reducing the rubbish mountain. It also has the added bonus that recycling residual biodegradeable waste in this way is an effective way of hitting the targets in the EU Landfill Directive.”

Waste to energy has been criticised in the past for reducing recycling rates as it is often cheaper to build an incineration plant than a recycling operation (see LATS Story). Friends of the Earth and others have said that burning waste is not the environmentally friendly option as many materials could be re-used or recycled, rather than incinerated.

However, Gaynor Hartnell, Director of Policy at the RPA said there was no reason for recycling rates to be affected.

“Many of our European neighbours excel at both recycling and energy recovery. Producing energy from waste after recycling targets have been achieved is environmentally sound and will help us meet both our renewables targets and help us minimise the amount of waste going to landfill. It also helps with energy security, through reducing dependence on energy imports.”

Her views were shared by Ian Crummack, General Manager of Cyclerval UK, a subsidiary of the TIRU Group and operators of a waste to energy plant near Grimsby. He told edie news that recycling and generating electricity should not be seen as being in conflict, citing the example of Sweden which has high rates of recycling and numerous energy from waste plants. Indeed, Cyclerval’s Grimsby operation uses energy from waste as part of an integrated approach which includes recycling and composting operations.

He also pointed out that local authority recycling rates could be boosted if they were allowed to add in the large amounts of ferrous metals recovered after thermal treatment. This is sold to secondary markets around the world, notably China.

However, he also identified two significant barriers to development of energy from waste – planning and economics.

On the planning front he said: “Cyclerval believe this can be partly mitigated by building smaller size installations that are less intrusive in local communities and linking them to some form of heat use such as supplying local industry or in a district heating scheme. This makes their development more relevant to local people.”

For the Government to hit its target of 10% renewable capacity though, Mr Crummack called for greater incentives: “There has to be a greater degree of joined up thinking between the way government expects private finance to provide such renewable capacity, and the mechanisms by which private finance works.”

“Finally, it is quite clear that one single renewable source is incapable of supplying the required capacity; a range of sources and technologies will be required to hit the 10% target – energy from waste is just one of those.”

By David Hopkins

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