Is Energy from Waste the Answer to the UK's Energy Crisis?

We explore the Energy from Waste solution to the UK's growing waste problem as well as the future of power generation to satisfy the UK's demands.

Are We Facing an Energy Crisis?

The majority of the UK’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants however, many are faced with closure following the introduction of the Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU).

The directive gave high polluting coal-fired power stations a period of grace to comply with the new requirements highlighted in the directive.

If sites choose not to comply, they are faced with closure.

The IED will require non-compliant power plants to close by the end of 2016 or after 20,000 operating hours.

With low coal prices making coal-fired power plants more profitable than gas, many time-limited coal-fired power plants have raced through their allocated hours already and will close this year.

Estimations suggest that over 12000MW of generating capacity could be lost from the national grid following the closures in 2016.

There is a real possibility that we could be facing a ‘lights out’ situation.

Coal-Fired Power Plants - An Uncertain Future?

In fossil fuel powered plants, environmental protection has seen a greater focus.

Although the UK has seen air pollution declining since the 1970’s, the IED has demanded a market for technologies to address Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and Sulphur Oxides (SOx).

In general, power plants with a greater capacity than 50 MW are required to measure NOx and SOx continuously plus dust and particulate matter (PM) emissions.

Biomass - A Greener Alternative

The UK government supports biomass, as a low-carbon form of power generation compared with fossil fuels.

The trees and plants used as fuel absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, so if they are regrown under environmentally sound conditions, burning them results in a net carbon saving as it displaces coal and gas.

However, green campaigners point to problems with sourcing sufficient quantities of biomass, much of which has to be imported, and say that without strict regulations, growing trees and crops for biomass can lead to deforestation in developing countries.

Under the new rules set by the IED, coal-fired power stations must either comply with certain emissions limits or opt out – Operators choosing to opt-out are then allowed a certain number of hours of operation before they must be shut down.

Energy from Waste - Is This the Solution to the UK’s Waste Problem?

The UK is faced with the problem of disposing waste as many landfill sites are full. An increased number of EfW sites would decrease the amount of waste being sent to landfill significantly.

EfW’s are regarded as a solution to the growing amount of waste in the UK generating up to 70MW of energy.

Municipal thermal treatment sites are required to typically measure SO2, NOx, CO, HCl, NH3, VOC and TPM which now fall under the IED.

EfW sites are seen as a ‘greener’ method of waste disposal as they reduce the emission of the greenhouse gas and methane produced compared to waste composition from organic matter in landfill sites.

Incentives for Capturing Syngas from Gasification Process

The Renewables Obligation (RO) places a commitment on UK electricity suppliers to source an increasing proportion of electricity they supply to customers from renewable sources.

The gasification process converts municipal solid waste into a usable synthetic gas, or syngas.

Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) are issued to accredited generating stations based on net renewable generation.

The fuel is sampled using the process agreed during the accreditation process, factoring in the calorific value of the fuel being burnt, and this is then used to determine the renewable generation for ROC claim purposes.

More efficient plants will receive up to 2 ROCs per MW/hour of electricity produced.

Why Landfill Isn’t Sustainable:

  • EU Landfill Directive requires the amount of waste to be reduced
  • In 2014, landfill taxation rates have increased from £72 per ton to £80 per ton to encourage diversion from landfill
  • Majority of landfill sites are full
  • Methane gas produced by landfill has a GWP of 21 which means it offers 21 times the greenhouse warming threat than CO2

A Solution to the UK’s Growing Waste Problem?

Currently, the UK generates around 30 million tonnes of municipal waste each year. Of that:

  • 35% is recycled or composted
  • 10% is used to recover energy (EfW)
  • 55% is sent to landfill

The growing volume of waste, a shortfall of landfill sites and increasing energy prices are making Energy from Waste an obvious solution for a cleaner environment whilst filling the gap of power generation left by the coal fired power stations.

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