Antonio Alfonso Avello, Managing Director – Head of the International Division Environment Area, FCC ENVIRONMENT
How is the move towards a circular economy impacting the waste management industry?
We think that the trend towards circular economy thinking is impacting across the spectrum, but we believe it is having a significant and positive influence on the waste management industry. This new way of thinking is affecting the way municipalities deliver services to citizens, promoting the recovery of recyclable materials, in the main by means of separate/selective collection services. Many developed countries actively set targets for recovery and recycling and this is, in turn, spurring on Smart Cities’ management teams to deliver efficient services to their citizens. This is in keeping with our own business model. In the case of emerging economies however, the social implications of the circular economy are very significant. Many “informal” recyclers earn a living in the collection of valuable resources, whether selecting material on the streets or at the treatment facility such as an Integrated Environmental Centre or just a landfill site, in many cases with not very sophisticated infrastructure. But we have to move past collection mechanisms alone and look at the fuller picture. Collecting materials for recycling or recovery is not economically viable without end use markets. At FCC Environment, we are very aware of the need to recover maximum value from these secondary raw materials. For most of them including paper, cardboard, glass, certain plastics, there is a clear market, but it is very volatile and is dependent on China (the largest buyer) where changes in its economy affect global demand. We strongly feel the best way to maximise value is by ensuring high material quality and low levels of contamination.
How has the waste to energy industry changed over the past 40 years and how do you see it continuing to change over the coming decade?
Waste incineration has been with us for more than 70 years. Forty years ago, in the mid 70s, there were some countries spearheading the implementation of energy recovery solutions from waste incineration. This was mainly in densely populated urban areas: Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. For instance, our Eastcroft WTE facility in Nottingham started operations in December 1975. Since these early days, the basic original grate technologies have been improved in terms of reliability and combustion effectiveness. In general, all the process equipment has progressed, for example much development has gone into Flue Gas Cleaning and Energy recovery efficiency, whether as high-pressure steam or electricity.
The Eastcroft WTE facility in Nottingham, England is owned and operated by FCC Environment. There is a long term waste delivery contract with Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottingham County Council. In the early 2000s, Eastcroft was upgraded to improve the Flue Gas Cleaning and Emissions Monitoring systems. As a result, the plant today is fully compliant with the most demanding WID European Standards, with a considerable life ahead of it. In fact, we are on the way to developing two additional energy recovery lines on the same location. The current plant is permitted at 200,000 tonnes per annum throughput. The Eastcroft plant is one of the ten existing WTE projects inside the FCC group, with 2.6 million tons overall annual waste process capacity and over 300 MWe Power output.
Over the years, new combustion technologies have been also developed, such as the fluidized–bed techniques, with better efficiency in terms of Energy recovery. For instance, our facility of Allington, commissioned in 2009 in Kent, England, is made up of three fluidized–bed lines with a total capacity of 500,000 tonnes per annum (500 ktpa) and 43 MWe. This technology is part of the Advanced Combustion Technologies (ACT) group. Other ACTs, such as Plasma torch or Gasification, which have a prominent role in this year’s World Waste to Energy City Summit, are under development and are continuing to achieve more deliverability for the treatment of big quantities of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). These plants still need to reach the same level of reliability that the proven and robust grate technologies are able to demonstrate. It is this lack of proven reliability due to a dearth of reference plants that creates issues when trying to develop Public Private Partnerships (PPP) based on the use of ACTs, such as difficulties in securing project financing and appropriate performance guarantees. But it is not just the technology and financial barriers that need to be overcome. Taking into account social and environmental factors, it is still the case that there are perception issues associated with developing waste management projects, including WTE facilities. There remains a general reluctance from citizens to embrace these solutions, mostly due to concerns over environmental pollution as a result of the industry’s poor performance in the past. The WTE market along with public and private developers must maintain and improve environmental and sustainability standards if it is to win this battle: by promoting existing clean and well managed facilities among inhabitants of future developments areas; by means of technical and well oriented training and PR campaigns; by achieving full transparency in process and operation. In our view, this last point is key. By allowing citizens on-line access to their local facility’s monitoring system, confidence can be created by providing access to real time data on emissions and pollutants, as a way of showing that there is nothing to hide or to be afraid of. In addition we must keep supporting the development of the most environmental-friendly technologies, to make them ever better. In terms of waste management solutions, we have understood, and are fully supportive of the need to maximize and promote materials recovery even further, and in many cases we find WTE is not a “stand- alone” solution for waste management, but that it interacts with other technologies/facilities with the goal of achieving a multi-purpose Integrated Solid Waste Management Complex Installation (ISWMCI), that combines diverse streams of refuse materials with different technologies. This can be seen for instance at the ongoing Manama Project in Bahrain, where diverse material streams such as MSW, C&I waste, Organic waste, Animal carcasses or Construction and Demolition waste (CDW) are expected to be driven through a multi-technology installation – comprising sorting plant, composting area, CDW recycling, WTE plant and so on. As a summary, we envisage that WTE, by itself or combined with other technologies, will remain an integral part of Smart Cities’ solutions for developing more efficient services to satisfy their citizens’ needs on waste management and renewable energy.
Which international markets currently offer the most exciting project opportunities in waste to energy development?
We think that there is a very active WTE market all around the world, but we are finding that certain regions seem more interested in developing these types of facility. I would aim at Europe, Central and North America, the Middle East and also the Far East, along with China and ASEAN countries. Some of the projects that are being developed in these territories include: Edinburgh and Mid Lothian in UK, Gdansk and Łodz in Poland, Kabd in Kuwait, Manama in Bahrain, Muscat in Oman, Vancouver and Ottawa in Canada, Maryland in the USA, Kuala Lumpur-Kepong in Malaysia, and Singapore.
What is it about a particular market that makes it attractive for waste to energy development?
During the many years that we at FCC have been developing and operating WTE facilities, we have realized that there are many factors in a market which prove fundamental for succeeding in this process including:
- The particular geo-socio-political background; e.g. a shortage of land for dealing with waste in densely populated areas, and a clear regulatory policy that ensures waste collection and treatment remains under the long term control of the local authority provides a strong starting point.
- In addition, a level of socioeconomic development that allows for a good financial environment and makes the project cost affordable for authorities and citizens is also a benefit.
- Having a Policy on Renewable Energy that is aligned with the need of dealing with large volumes of MSW.
- A clear commitment and support from authorities at all levels, National/State/Regional/Municipal, to develop waste to energy projects.