Waste-to-energy plants link Merseyside with Thailand

Merseyside and Thailand's city of Chiang Mai are set to become the first locations for cutting edge waste-to-energy plants producing biomass fuel and electricity from mixed waste.

Two parts of the world with otherwise little in common, Merseyside and Chiang Mai will both acquire a new technology that turns mixed household or commercial waste into biomass fuel-fibre, linked through a carbon offsetting scheme.

While the Merseyside plant is designed to produce bio-mass fuel for the cement and power generation industries and will run on natural gas, the Thai facility will be powered by the biofuel it itself produces, and will end up with a surplus of electricity to feed into the grid.

“You have to do something with the waste you don’t bury. What we do is we make renewable fuel. To make that, we incur carbon emissions but those are offset with the Thailand plant through the Clean Development Mechanism,” said Steve Whatmore of Orchid, the company that developed and is now commercialising the process.

With an output of around 6MW and 2.5MW needed to run its processes, the Thailand plant will be producing a substantial amount of green electricity, and generating more than enough carbon credits to offset the Merseyside operations.

While waste-to-energy is not a new concept, the plant set to become operational in Merseyside at the end of this year avoids incineration and produces very little noise, pollution or odours.

“We don’t burn anything, we just convert waste into various products,” Bob Anderson, Orchid’s business manager, explained. “From the environmental point of view it’s very clean. Major issues from any waste processor are odour and noise, and in this process noise is contained, there is no dust or particles released into the atmosphere, and we treat emissions through a bio-filtration system so there are no odorous.”

The process relies on people throwing out rubbish with a biodegradable component, needed to generate the biomass fuel, and so could not function in a society that perfectly segregates all its waste and composts the organic portion.

But there is not much chance of that happening despite determined government policies, Bob Anderson argued: urban dwellers, for one thing, are highly unlikely to compost all their kitchen waste. The process is flexible and can be adapted to partially segregated waste, he added.

Thanks to DTI funding for a pilot scheme in Lancashire and now financial backing from Defra, Orchid’s process will be serving communities in Merseyside by the end of this year, and the Thai city of Chiang Mai by the beginning of 2008.

The company is in discussions with local councils across the UK and Ireland to built more plants, including some that use the full waste-to-fuel-to-electricity process.

Orchid was one of the hundreds of companies exhibiting at the IWWE (Irish Water Waste and Environment) and IWRM (Irish Waste and Recycling Management) shows in Dublin this week.

Goska Romanowicz

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