The idea of biogas is anything but new. People have been experimenting with making biogas for many generations. Biogas is made by converting organic waste into energy. It’s a huge win for the environment because it utilizes what is otherwise considered waste, but it’s a big win for pocketbooks too.
Organic waste includes the byproducts of human food production (think potato peels, carrot peels, the tops of turnips, etc) but it also includes manure. Any manure is fair game, think about cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits, goats — virtually any farm animal produces mounds of this each day.
This manure produces very high levels of methane gas which is horrible for the environment. By using this manure to create biogas, we remove the danger of creating heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere that raises the temperature of the entire planet. Using it for biogas production can also help to reduce global warming.
How Do We Produce Biogas?
Biogas is produced from the breakdown of organic waste in an environment that is void of oxygen. We call this environment anaerobic and the process is process is called anaerobic digestion. Two products are created from this process. One is digestate. Digestate can be used for fertilizer and even as livestock bedding. The other product is biogas. Biogas can be used for heating, electricity production and as a clean vehicle fuel.
It’s essentially like composting all of the materials, but in an environment without oxygen and in the temperature range of around 35 to 40 degrees Celsius and pH of around 7. This is optimal to produce biogas. Biogas can be converted into an upgraded form of gas by removal of carbon dioxide that can be used like natural gas. It can be used as-is as an engine fuel. It can be used as fuel in a vehicle, sometimes without modification.
How Can You Produce Your Own Biogas?
Just imagine being on your own off-grid property, running a hundred head of cattle, growing your own food and canning it. You’ve got meat covered, your food is stocked and you are prepared for just about anything. But what about fuel? Imagine what a game-changer it could be if you were able to produce your own fuel from the waste from your cattle and your garden scraps or food residuals! You can!
The Biogas Digester makes it possible, and fairly easy, for you to start producing your own biogas. Buy a ready-made biodigester for around $700-$1000 dollars and start producing your own biogas to meet your fuel requirements. They are containers designed to do the work for you and help you collect the fruits of your composted and digested waste.
Build your own! China has approximately 30 million Biodigesters in use in its rural areas. Rural Chinese areas are far removed from cities that have gas stations. It simply isn’t accessible as it is in the US. Many rural people have learned to make their own biodigesters to fill their fuel needs.
You need a tank that is sealed with an access hole on one side for adding organic waste. You have another access to an outlet. That is where you collect the liquid run-off that can be used for fuel.
The bottom of the main unit is the digestion chamber. From that is an outlet where the digestate can be collected and used as fertilizer. The main chamber typically has a domed top to allow for the room that will be necessary for the expansion of the gases formed inside. By being sealed, the unit creates that all-important anaerobic environment.
A tank that demonstrates the size and simplicity of a tank that can be purchased and used in the backyard.
China is currently facing serious environmental problems, with potentially few solutions. Currently, this is mostly taking the form of serious smog issues plaguing North China, with more than 24 cities on red alert. However, with airports being shut down due to lacking visibility and the economy of China being heavily disrupted, action needs to be taken to solve this serious smog problem. While limited action has been taken, perhaps renewable energy is the key to cutting down China’s smog.
However, since 2015, levels of air pollution have risen once again. This pollution has had hard hitting effects on urban areas, especially the Chinese capital Beijing, and has caused widespread disruption to the lives of Chinese citizens and economy of the country.
The air pollution leads to the cities becoming hotter than ever. Urban Heat Island effect, which refers to buildings absorbing the sun’s heat well, is exacerbated by the smog. In fact, a car in the heat can reach temperatures of 114 degrees Fahrenheit after just 20 minutes, making travelling on hot days nearly unbearable for any living creature. In order to decrease the heated condition of China, it is essential to decrease the amount of smog covering the cities.
What Has the Chinese Government Done?
The Chinese government has taken limited action in an attempt to minimize the air pollution being created in the country. This includes the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Plan, which acknowledged the danger posed by air pollution levels and aimed to reduce coal usage in urban areas like Beijing.
However, this is not representative of the main action the government has taken. Primarily, the Chinese government has focused on individual areas and attempting to reduce local pollution levels through efficient coal burning and banning the burning of waste materials, especially on farms. These solutions, while effective on a short-term basis, are not all that is needed, though.
Investment in renewables can reduce China’s dependence on coal for power generation
Many people believe renewable energy to be a small affair, something undertaken by the Western world in a vain attempt to reduce our collective guilt concerning climate change and wastage levels. This is simply not the case. Renewable energy is a $120 billion industry that receives investment and application across the world. This includes solar energy, waste-to-energy technology, wind energy, hydroelectric energy and many more attempts to reduce overall energy usage.
Through investment in renewable energy, China could reduce its dependence on coal and increase the efficiency of its energy production and economy. Smog is directly created by China’s use of coal for its energy production, and by investing in other renewable means, China can simultaneously improve its health situation.
While the plans additionally included investment in making the coal industry more efficient and reducing emissions on an industrial and commercial level, clearly renewable energy is believed to be a valid alternative energy source.
Overall, it is clear that renewable energy can certainly help with China’s serious smog problem. Whether this should be in tangent with further investment in the coal industry or necessitate the end of widespread coal usage in China is still a question for debate.
About the Author
Emily Folk is freelance writer and blogger on topics of renewable energy and conservation. To get her latest posts, check out her blog Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter.
The 5th edition of the Global Green Economy Index (GGEI) is a data-driven analysis of how 80 countries perform in the global green economy, as well as how expert practitioners rank this performance. Since its launch in 2010, the GGEI has signaled which countries are making progress towards greener economies, and which ones are not. The comparison of national green performance and perceptions of it revealed through the GGEI framework is more important than ever today.
Sweden is again the top performing country in the 2016 GGEI, followed by the other “Nordics” and Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. Amidst these strong results, the GGEI identified areas where these countries can improve their green performance further. These opportunities – focused around innovation, green branding and carbon efficiency – could propel their national green performance forward even more in the future.
Developing countries in Africa and Latin America–including Ethiopia, Zambia, Brazil, and Costa Rica– also perform well in this new GGEI edition, ranking in the top fifteen for performance. While Brazil and Costa Rica receive similarly strong results on our perception survey, Ethiopia and Zambia do not, suggesting a need for better green branding and communications in these two African countries.
Like in 2014, Copenhagen is the top green city, followed by Stockholm, Vancouver, Oslo and Singapore. This new GGEI only collected perception values for green cities as lack of data availability continues to impede our efforts to develop a comprehensive green city performance index. Given the significant role of cities in the global green economy, city-level data development is an urgent priority.
No country in Asia ranks well for performance on this new GGEI, with the exception of Cambodia, which was the most improved country as compared to the last edition, rising 22 spots to 20th overall. China, India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea do better on the perception side of the GGEI, but continue to register concerning performance results.
While many European Union (EU) members perform near the top of this GGEI edition, others including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia rank near the bottom. These results are worrisome and suggest uneven national green performance across the EU.
Many of the countries with high annual GDP growth today rank poorly on the GGEI, further highlighting the limits to GDP as a growth indicator. These countries are mostly in Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines) and Africa (Nigeria, Tanzania).
The top green economy performers worldwide
Countries with a high reliance on fossil fuel extraction and export generally perform poorly on the GGEI, with a few exceptions. Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Russia all perform poorly while Norway and Canada do much better.
Rapidly growing economies, China and India continue to show performance weakness on the GGEI Markets & Investment dimension. Given the large investment required to achieve their climate targets, green investment promotion, cleantech innovation, and corporate sustainability should be developed further.
The United States ranks near the top of the GGEI perception survey and it is widely viewed as a vital market for green investment and innovation, yet overall the U.S. continues to have mediocre performance results, ranking 30th of the 80 countries covered. However, the GGEI found that U.S. company-level initiatives to green supply chains and reduce carbon footprints are accelerating.
Despite having a new prime minister, Australia continues to register a poor result on this new GGEI, ranking 55th of the 80 countries covered for performance. While green markets there are showing some strength, the overall carbon intensity of the Australian economy remains extremely high.
Hosting the annual Conference of Parties (COP) can positively impact the host country’s green brand. Yet this short-term image boost does not always translate to improved green performance in the longer-term, as demonstrated by the low GGEI performance results for Poland (COP19), Qatar (COP18) and South Africa (COP17).
The United Kingdom’s GGEI performance continues to lag behind its EU peers, ranking 25th of the 80 countries covered. While the UK does very well on both the perception and performance side of the Markets & Investment dimension, inconsistent policies supporting renewable energy and green growth continue to hurt the UK on other parts of the GGEI.
China is the world’s largest MSW generator, producing as much as 175 million tons of waste every year. With a current population surpassing 1.37 billion and exponential trends in waste output expected to continue, it is estimated that China’s cities will need to develop an additional hundreds of landfills and waste-to-energy plants to tackle the growing waste management crisis.
China’s three primary methods for municipal waste management are landfills, incineration, and composting. Nevertheless, the poor standards and conditions they operate in have made waste management facilities generally inefficient and unsustainable. For example, discharge of leachate into the soil and water bodies is a common feature of landfills in China. Although incineration is considered to be better than landfills and have grown in popularity over the years, high levels of toxic emissions have made MSW incineration plants a cause of concern for public health and environment protection.
Salman Zafar, a renowned waste management, waste-to-energy and bioenergy expert was interviewed to discuss waste opportunities in China. As Mr. Zafar commented on the current problems with these three primary methods of waste management used by most developing countries, he said, “Landfills in developing countries, like China and India, are synonymous with huge waste dumps which are characterized by rotting waste, spontaneous fires, toxic emissions and presence of rag-pickers, birds, animals and insects etc.” Similarly, he commented that as cities are expanding rapidly worldwide, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find land for siting new landfills.
On incineration, Zafar asserted that this type of waste management method has also become a controversial issue due to emission concerns and high technology costs, especially in developing countries. Many developers try to cut down costs by going for less efficient air pollution control systems”. Mr. Zafar’s words are evident in the concerns reflected in much of the data that waste management practices in China are often poorly monitored and fraudulent, for which data on emission controls and environmental protection is often elusive.
Similarly, given that management of MSW involves the collection, transportation, treatment and disposal of waste, Zafar explains why composting has also such a small number relative to landfills for countries like China. He says, “Composting is a difficult proposition for developing countries due to absence of source-segregation. Organic fraction of MSW is usually mixed with all sorts of waste including plastics, metals, healthcare wastes and industrial waste which results in poor quality of compost and a real risk of introduction of heavy metals into agricultural soils.” Given that China’s recycling sector has not yet developed to match market opportunities, even current treatment of MSW calls for the need of professionalization and institutionalization of the secondary materials industry.
While MSW availability is not an issue associated with the potential of the resource given its dispersion throughout the country and its exponential increase throughout, around 50 percent of the studies analyzed stated concerns for the high moisture content and low caloric value of waste in China, making it unattractive for WTE processes.
Talking about how this issue can be dealt with, Mr. Zafar commented that a plausible option to increase the calorific value of MSW is to mix it with agricultural residues or wood wastes. Thus, the biomass resources identified in most of the studies as having the greatest potential are not only valuable individually but can also be processed together for further benefits.
Among the major challenges on the other hand, were insufficient or elusive data, poor infrastructure, informal waste collection systems and the lack of laws and regulations in China for the industry. Other challenges included market risk, the lack of economic incentives and the high costs associated with biomass technologies. Nevertheless, given that the most recurring challenges cited across the data were related to infrastructure and laws and regulations, it is evident that China’s biomass policy is in extreme need of reform.
China’s unsustainable management of waste and its underutilized potential of MSW feedstock for energy and fuel production need urgent policy reform for the industry to develop. Like Mr. Zafar says, “Sustainable waste management demands an integration of waste reduction, waste reuse, waste recycling, and energy recovery from waste and landfilling. It is essential that China implements an integrated solid waste management strategy to tackle the growing waste crisis”.
China’s government will play a key role in this integrated solid waste management strategy. Besides increased cooperation efforts between the national government and local governments to encourage investments in solid waste management from the private sector and foster domestic recycling practices, first, there is a clear need to establish specialized regulatory agencies (beyond the responsibilities of the State Environmental Protection Administration and the Ministry of Commerce) that can provide clearer operating standards for current WTE facilities (like sanitary landfills and incinerators) as well as improve the supervision of them.
It is essential that China implements an integrated solid waste management strategy to tackle the growing waste crisis
Without clear legal responsibility assigned to specialized agencies, pollutant emissions and regulations related to waste volumes and operating conditions may continue to be disregarded. Similarly, better regulation in MSW management for efficient waste collection and separation is needed to incentivize recycling at the individual level by local residents in every city. Recycling after all is complementary to waste-to-energy, and like Salman Zafar explains, countries with the highest recycling rates also have the best MSW to energy systems (like Germany and Sweden).
Nevertheless, without a market for reused materials, recycling will take longer to become a common practice in China. As Chinese authorities will not be able to stop the waste stream from growing but can reduce the rate of growth, the government’s role in promoting waste management for energy production and recovery is of extreme importance.
Biomass energy in China has been developing at a rapid pace. The installed biomass power generation capacity in China increased sharply from 1.4 GW in 2006 to 14.88 GW in 2017. While the energy share of biomass remains relatively low compared to other sources of renewable energy, China plans to increase the proportion of biomass energy up to 15 percent and total installed capacity of biomass power generation to 30 GW by 2030.
In terms of impact, the theoretical biomass energy resource in China is about 5 billion tons coal equivalent, which equals 4 times of all energy consumption. As per conservative estimates, currently China is only using 5 percent of its total biomass potential.
According to IRENA, the majority of biomass capacity is in Eastern China, with the coastal province of Shandong accounting for 14 percent of the total alone. While the direct burning of mass for heat remains the primary use of biomass in China, in 2009, composition of China’s biomass power generation consisted in 62 percent of straw direct-fired power generation and 29 percent of waste incineration, with a mix of other feedstock accounting for the remaining 9 percent.
Biomass Resources in China
Major biomass resources in China include waste from agriculture, forestry, industries, animal manure and sewage, and municipal solid waste. While the largest contributing sources are estimated to be residues from annual crop production like wheat straw, much of the straw and stalk are presently used for cooking and heating in rural households at low efficiencies. Therefore, agricultural residues, forestry residues, and garden waste were found to be the most cited resources with big potential for energy production in China.
Agricultural residues are derived from agriculture harvesting such as maize, rice and cotton stalks, wheat straw and husks, and are most available in Central and northeastern China where most of the large stalk and straw potential is located. Because straw and stalks are produced as by-products of food production systems, they are perceived to be sustainable sources of biomass for energy that do not threaten food security.
Furthermore, it is estimated that China produces around 700 Mt of straw per year, 37 percent of which is corn straw, 28 percent rice, 20 percent wheat and 15 percent from various other crops. Around 50 percent of this straw is used for fertilizers, for which 350 Mt of straw is available for energy production per year.
Biomass resources are underutilized across China
Forestry residues are mostly available in the southern and central parts of China. While a few projects that use forestry wastes like tree bark and wood processing wastes are under way, one of the most cited resources with analyzed potential is garden waste. According to research, energy production from garden waste biomass accounted for 20.7 percent of China’s urban residential electricity consumption, or 12.6 percent of China’s transport gasoline demand in 2008.
The Chinese government believes that biomass feedstock should neither compete with edible food crops nor cause carbon debt or negative environmental impacts. As biomass takes on an increasing significant role in the China’s national energy-mix, future research specific to technology assessment, in addition to data collection and supply chain management of potential resources is necessary to continue to understand how biomass can become a game-changer in China’s energy future.
IRENA, 2014. Renewable Energy Prospects: China, REmap 2030 analysis. IRENA, Abu Dhabi. www.irena.org/remap
National Academy of Engineering and NRC, 2007: Energy Futures and Urban Air Pollution: Challenges for China and the United States.
Xingang, Z., Zhongfu, T., Pingkuo, L, 2013. Development goal of 30 GW for China’s biomass power generation: Will it be achieved? Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 25, September 2013, 310–317.
Xingang, Z., Jieyu, W., Xiaomeng, L., Tiantian, F., Pingkuo, L, 2012. Focus on situation and policies for biomass power generation in China. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 16, Issue 6, August 2012, 3722–3729.
Li, J., Jinming, B. MOA/DOE Project Expert Team, 1998. Assessment of Biomass Resource Availability in China. China Environmental Science Press, Beijing, China.
Klimowicz, G., 2014. “China’s big plans for biomass,” Eco-Business, Global Biomass Series, accessed on Apr 6, 2015.
Shi, Y., Ge, Y., Chang, J., Shao, H., and Tang, Y., 2013. Garden waste biomass for renewable and sustainable energy production in China: Potential, challenges and development. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 22 (2013) 432–437
Xu, J. and Yuan, Z, 2015. “An overview of the biomass energy policy in China,” BESustainable, May 21, 2015.
The increasing clamor for energy and satisfying it with a combination of conventional and renewable resources is a big challenge. Accompanying energy problems in almost all parts of the world, another problem that is assuming critical proportions is that of urban waste accumulation. The quantity of waste produced all over the world amounted to more than 12 billion tonnes in 2006, with estimates of up to 13 billion tonnes in 2011. The rapid increase in population coupled with changing lifestyle and consumption patterns is expected to result in an exponential increase in waste generation of up to 18 billion tonnes by year 2020. Ironically, most of the wastes are disposed of in open fields, along highways or burnt wantonly.
Size of the Industry
Around 130 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) are combusted annually in over 600 waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities globally that produce electricity and steam for district heating and recovered metals for recycling. The global market for biological and thermochemical waste-to-energy technologies is expected to grow to USD 29.2 billion by 2022. Incineration, with energy recovery, is the most common waste-to-energy method employed worldwide.
Since 1995, the global WTE industry increased by more than 16 million tonnes of MSW. Over the last five years, waste incineration in Europe has generated between an average of 4% to 8% of their countries’ electricity and between an average of 10% to 15% of the continent’s domestic heat.
Advanced thermal technologies, like gasification and pyrolysis, and anaerobic digestion systems are beginning to make deep inroads in the waste-to-energy sector and are expected to increase their respective market shares on account of global interest in integrated waste management framework in urban areas. Scarcity of waste disposal sites coupled with growing waste volumes and solid waste management challenges are generating high degree of interest in energy-from-waste systems among policy-makers, urban planners, entrepreneurs, utility companies etc.
Currently, the European nations are recognized as global leaders of waste-to-energy movement. They are followed behind by the Asia Pacific region and North America respectively. In 2007 there are more than 600 WTE plants in 35 different countries, including large countries such as China and small ones such as Bermuda. Some of the newest plants are located in Asia. China is witnessing a surge in waste-to-energy installations and has plans to establish 125 new waste-to-energy plants during the twelfth five-year plan ending 2015.
Incineration is the most common waste-to-energy method used worldwide.
The United States processes 14 percent of its trash in WTE plants. Denmark, on the other hand, processes more than any other country – 54 percent of its waste materials. As at the end of 2008, Europe had more than 475 WTE plants across its regions – more than any other continent in the world – that processes an average of 59 million tonnes of waste per annum. In the same year, the European WTE industry as a whole had generated revenues of approximately US$4.5bn.
Legislative shifts by European governments have seen considerable progress made in the region’s WTE industry as well as in the implementation of advanced technology and innovative recycling solutions. The most important piece of WTE legislation pertaining to the region has been the European Union’s Landfill Directive, which was officially implemented in 2001 which has resulted in the planning and commissioning of an increasing number of WTE plants over the past five years.
Waste-to-Energy is the use of modern combustion and biochemical technologies to recover energy, usually in the form of electricity and steam, from urban wastes. These new technologies can reduce the volume of the original waste by 90%, depending upon composition and use of outputs. The main categories of waste-to-energy technologies are physical technologies, which process waste to make it more useful as fuel; thermal technologies, which can yield heat, fuel oil, or syngas from both organic and inorganic wastes; and biological technologies, in which bacterial fermentation is used to digest organic wastes to yield fuel.
The global market for waste-to-energy technologies was valued at US$6.2bn in 2012 which is forecasted to increase to US$29.2bn by 2022. While the biological WTE segment is expected to grow more rapidly from US$1.4bn in 2008 to approximately US$2.5bn in 2014, the thermal WTE segment is estimated to constitute the vast bulk of the entire industry’s worth. This segment was valued at US$18.5bn in 2008 and is forecasted to expand to US$23.7bn in 2014.
The global market for waste to energy technologies has shown substantial growth over the last five years, increasing from $4.83 billion in 2006, to $7.08 billion in 2010 with continued market growth through the global economic downturn. Over the coming decade, growth trends are expected to continue, led by expansion in the US, European, Chinese, and Indian markets.
By 2021, based on continued growth in Asian markets combined with the maturation of European waste management regulations and European and US climate mitigation strategies, the annual global market for waste to energy technologies will exceed $27 billion, for all technologies combined.
Asia-Pacific’s waste-to-energy market will post substantial growth by 2015, as more countries view the technology as a sustainable alternative to landfills for disposing waste while generating clean energy. In its new report, Frost & Sullivan said the industry could grow at a compound annual rate of 6.7 percent for thermal waste-to-energy and 9.7 percent for biological waste-to-energy from 2008 to 2015.
The WTE market in Europe is forecasted to expand at an exponential rate and will continue to do so for at least the next 10 years. The continent’s WTE capacity is projected to increase by around 13 million tonnes, with almost 100 new WTE facilities to come online by 2012. In 2008, the WTE market in Europe consisted of approximately 250 players due in large to the use of bulky and expensive centralized WTE facilities, scattered throughout Western Europe.
Many countries around the world have switched to solar power in order to supplement or provide an alternative source of energy that is cheaper, more reliable and efficient, and friendly to the environment. Generally speaking, to convert solar energy to electricity, there are two kinds of technologies used by the solar power plants – the PV (photovoltaic) systems which use solar panels to convert sunlight directly into electricity, and the CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) that indirectly uses the solar thermal energy to produce electricity.
The solar PV systems, which are either placed in ground-mounted solar farms or on rooftops are considered cheaper than CSP and constitutes the majority of solar installations, while CSP and large-scale PV accounts for the majority of the general solar electricity-generation-capacity, across the globe.
Global Trends in Solar Energy
In 2017, photovoltaic capacity increased by 95 GW, with a 34% growth year-on-year of new installations. Cumulative installed capacity exceeded 401 GW by the end of the year, sufficient to supply 2.1 percent of the world’s total electricity consumption. This growth was dramatic, and scientists viewed it as a crucial way to meet the world’s commitments to climate change.
“In most countries around the world there is still huge potential to dramatically increase the amount of energy we’re able to get from solar. The only way to achieve this is through a combination of both governance and individual responsibility.” Alastair Kay, Editor at Green Business Watch
Both CSP and PV systems are undergoing a considerable amount of growth and experts claim that by 2050, solar power will become the greatest source of electricity in the whole world. To achieve this goal, the capacity of PV systems should grow up to 4600 gigawatts, of which 50% or more would come from India or China. To date, the capacity of solar power is about 310 gigawatts, a drastic increase on the 50 gigawatts of power installed in 2010.
The United Kingdom, followed by Germany and France led Europe in the 2016 general statistics for solar power growth with new solar installations of 29%, 21%, and 8.3% respectively. In early 2016, the amount of power across Europe was near 100 gigawatts but now stands at 105 gigawatts. This growth is regarded as slow and experts in the solar industry are calling upon the European Union to give more targets concerning the renewable source of energy. It is said that setting a target that is not less than 35% will revive the solar business in Europe.
Across the United States in places, such as Phoenix and Los Angeles, which are located in a sunny region, a common PV system can generate an average of 7500 kWh – similar to the electrical power in use in a typical US home.
In Africa, many nations especially those around the deserts such as Sahara receive a great deal of sunlight every day, creating an opportunity for the development of solar technology across the region. Distribution of PV systems is almost uniform in Africa with the majority of countries receiving about 2000 kWh/m2 in every year. A certain study shows that generating solar power in a facility covering about 0.3% of the area consisting of North Africa could provide all the energy needed by the European-Union.
Asia alone contributed to 66.66% of the global amount of solar power installed in 2016, with about 50% coming from China.
With these reports, it is clear that the development of solar energy technology is growing in each and every continent with just a few countries with little or no apparent growth.
The growth of solar power technology across every continent in the world is very fast and steady and in the near future, almost every country will have a history to tell about the numerous benefits of going solar. The adoption of solar power will help improve the development of other sectors of the economy, such as the electronics industry, hence creating a lot of employment opportunities.
For a society accustomed to the achievements of a linear economy, the transition to a circular economic system is a hard task even to contemplate. Although the changes needed may seem daunting, it is important to remember that we have already come a long way. However, the history of the waste hierarchy has taught that political perseverance and unity of approach are essential to achieving long term visions in supply chain management.
Looking back, it is helpful to view the significance of the Lansink’s Ladder in the light of the sustainability gains it has already instigated. From the outset, the Ladder encountered criticism, in part because the intuitive preference order it expresses is not (and has never been put forward as) scientifically rigorous. Opposition came from those who feared the hierarchy would impede economic growth and clash with an increasingly consumerist society. The business community expressed concerns about regulatory burdens and the cost of implementing change.
However, such criticism was not able to shake political support, either in Holland where the Ladder was adopted in the Dutch Environmental Protection Act of 1979, or subsequently across Europe, as the Waste Hierarchy was transposed into national legislation as a result of the revised Waste Framework Directive.
Prevention, reuse and recycling have become widely used words as awareness has increased that our industrial societies will eventually suffer a shortage of raw materials and energy. So, should we see the waste hierarchy as laying the first slabs of the long road to a circular economy? Or is the circular economy a radical new departure?
Positive and negative thinking
There have been two major transitionary periods in waste management: public health was the primary driver for the first, from roughly 1900 to 1960, in which waste removal was formalised as a means to avoid disease. The second gained momentum in the 1980s, when prevention, reuse and recovery came on the agenda. However, consolidation of the second transition has in turn revealed new drivers for a third. Although analysing drivers is always tricky – requiring a thorough study of causes and effects – a general indication is helpful for further discussion. Positive (+) and negative (-) drivers for a third transition may be:
(+) The development of material supply chain management through the combination of waste hierarchy thinking with cradle to cradle eco design;
(+) The need for sustainable energy solutions;
(+) Scarcity of raw materials necessary for technological innovation; and
(+) Progressive development of circular economy models, with increasing awareness of social, financial and economic barriers.
(-) Growth of the global economy, especially in China and India, and later in Africa;
(-) Continued growth in global travel;
(-) Rising energy demand, exceeding what can be produced from renewable energy sources and threatening further global warming;
(-) Biodiversity loss, causing a further ecological impoverishment; and
(-) Conservation of the principle of ownership, which hinders the development of the so-called ‘lease society’.
A clear steer
As the direction, scale and weight of these drivers are difficult to assess, it’s necessary to steer developments at all levels to a sustainable solution. The second transition taught that governmental control appears indispensable, and that regulation stimulates innovation so long as adequate space is left for industry and producers to develop their own means of satisfying their legislated responsibilities.
The European Waste Framework Directive has been one such stimulatory piece of legislation. Unfortunately, the EC has decided to withdraw its Circular Economy package, which would otherwise now be on track to deliver the additional innovation needed to achieve its goals – including higher recycling targets. Messrs. Juncker and Timmermans must now either bring forward the more ambitious legislation they have hinted at, or explain why they have abandoned the serious proposals of their predecessors.
Perhaps the major differences between Member States and other countries may require a preliminary two-speed policy, but any differences in timetable between Western Europe and other countries should not stand in the way of innovation, and differences of opinion between the European Parliament and the Commission must be removed for Europe to remain credible.
Governmental control requires clear rules and definitions, and for legislative terminology to be commensurate with policy objectives. One failing in this area is the use of the generic term ‘recovery’ to cover product reuse, recycling and incineration with energy recovery, which confuses the hierarchy’s preference order. The granting of R1 status to waste incineration plants, although understandable in terms of energy diversification, turns waste processors into energy producers benefiting from full ovens. Feeding these plants reduces the scope for recycling (e.g. plastics) and increases CO2 emissions. When relatively inefficient incinerators still appear to qualify for R1 status, it offers confusing policy signals for governments, investors and waste services providers alike.
The key role for government also is to set clear targets and create the space for producers and consumers to generate workable solutions. The waste hierarchy’s preference order is best served by transparent minimum standards, grouped around product reuse, material recycling or disposal by combustion. For designated product or material categories, multiple minimum standards are possible following preparation of the initial waste streams, which can be tightened as technological developments allow.
Where the rubber meets the road
As waste markets increase in scale, are liberalised, and come under international regulation, individual governmental control is diminished. These factors are currently playing out in the erratic prices of secondary commodities and the development of excess incinerator capacity in some nations that has brought about a rise in RDF exports from the UK and Italy. Governments, however, may make a virtue of the necessity of avoiding the minutiae: ecological policy is by definition long-term and requires a stable line; day to day control is an impossible and undesirable task.
The road to the third transition – towards a circular economy – requires a new mind-set from government that acknowledges and empowers individuals. Not only must we approach the issue from the bottom-up, but also from the side and above. Consumer behaviour must be steered by both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ controls: through information and communication, because of the importance of psychological factors; but also through financial instruments, because both consumers and industry are clearly responsive to such stimuli.
Where we see opposition to deposit return schemes, it comes not from consumers but from industry, which fears the administrative and logistical burden. The business community must be convinced of the economic opportunities of innovation. Material supply chain management is a challenge for designers and producers, who nevertheless appreciate the benefits of product lifetime extensions and reuse. When attention to environmental risks seems to lapse – for example due to financial pressures or market failures – then politics must intervene.
Government and industry should therefore get a better grip on the under-developed positive drivers of the third transition, such as eco design, secondary materials policy, sustainable energy policy, and research and development in the areas of bio, info, and nanotechnologies.
Third time’s the charm
Good supply chain management stands or falls with the way in which producers and consumers contribute to the policies supported by government and society. In order that producers and consumers make good on this responsibility, government must first support their environmental awareness.
The interpretation of municipal duty of care determines options for waste collection, disposal and processing. Also essential is the way in which producer responsibility takes shape, and the government must provide a clear separation of private and public duties. Businesses may be liable for the negative aspects of unbridled growth and irresponsible actions. It is also important for optimal interaction with the European legislators: a worthy entry in Brussels is valuable because of the international aspects of the third transition. Finally, supply chain management involves the use of various policy tools, including:
Rewarding good behaviour
Sharpening minimum standards
Development and certification of CO2 tools
Formulation and implementation of end-of-waste criteria
Remediation of waste incineration with low energy efficiency
Restoration or maintenance of a fair landfill tax
Application of the combustion load set at zero
‘Seeing is believing’ is the motto of followers of the Apostle Thomas, who is chiefly remembered for his propensity for doubt. The call for visible examples is heard ever louder as more questions are raised around the feasibility of product renewal and the possibilities of a circular economy.
Ultimately, the third transition is inevitable as we face a future of scarcity of raw materials and energy. However, while the direction is clear, the tools to be employed and the speed of change remain uncertain. Disasters are unnecessary to allow the realisation of vital changes; huge leaps forward are possible so long as government – both national and international – and society rigorously follow the preference order of the waste hierarchy. Climbing Lansink’s Ladder remains vital to attaining a perspective from which we might judge the ways in which to make a circle of our linear economy.
Note: The article is being republished with the permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be found at this link.
Biogas is an often overlooked and neglected aspect of renewable energy in India. While solar, wind and hydropower dominate the discussion in the cuntry, they are not the only options available. Biogas is a lesser known but highly important option to foster sustainable development in agriculture-based economies, such as India.
What is Biogas
Briefly speaking, biogas is the production of gaseous fuel, usually methane, by fermentation of organic material. It is an anaerobic process or one that takes place in the absence of oxygen. Technically, the yeast that causes your bread to rise or the alcohol in beer to ferment is a form of biogas. We don’t use it in the same way that we would use other renewable sources, but the idea is similar. Biogas can be used for cooking, lighting, heating, power generation and much more. Infact, biogas is an excellent and effective to promote development of rural and marginalized communities in all developing countries.
This presents a problem, however. The organic matter is putting off a gas, and to use it, we have to turn it into a liquid. This requires work, machinery and manpower. Research is still being done to figure out the most efficient methods to make it work, but there is a great deal of progress that has been made, and the technology is no longer new.
Fossil Fuel Importation
India has a rapidly expanding economy and the population to fit. This has created problems with electricity supplies to expanding areas. Like most countries, India mainly uses fossil fuels. However, as oil prices fluctuate and the country’s demand for oil grows, the supply doesn’t always keep up with the demand. In the past, India has primarily imported oil from the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Without a steady and sustainable fossil fuels supply, India has looking more seriously into renewable sources they can produce within the country. Biogas is an excellent candidate to meet those requirements and has been used for this goal before.
Biogas in India
There are significant differences between biogas and fossil fuels, but for India, one of the biggest is that you can create biogas at home. It’s pretty tricky to find, dig up and transform crude oil into gas, but biogas doesn’t have the same barriers. In fact, many farmers who those who have gardens or greenhouses could benefit with proper water management and temperature control so that plants can be grown year round, It still takes some learning and investment, but for many people, especially those who live in rural places, it’s doable.
This would be the most beneficial to people in India because it would help ease the strain of delivering reliable energy sources based on fossil fuels, and would allow the country to become more energy independent. Plus, the rural areas are places where the raw materials for biogas will be more available, such animal manure, crop residues and poultry litter. But this isn’t the first time most people there are hearing about it.
Biogas in India has been around for a long time. In the 1970’s the country began a program called the National Biogas and Manure Management Program (NBMMP) to deal with the same problem — a gas shortage. The country did a great deal of research and implemented a wide variety of ideas to help their people become more self-sufficient, regardless of the availability of traditional gasoline and other fossil fuel based products.
The original program was pioneering for its time, but the Chinese quickly followed suit and have been able to top the market in biogas production in relatively little time. Comparatively, India’s production of biogas is quite small. It only produces about 2.07 billion m3/year of biogas, while it’s estimated that it could produce as much as 48 billion m3/year. This means that there are various issues with the current method’s India is using in its biogas production.
Biogas has the potential to rejuvenate India’s agricultural sector
The original planning in the NBMMP involved scientists who tried to create the most efficient biogas generators. This was good, but it slowed people’s abilities to adopt the techniques individually. China, on the other hand, explicitly worked to help their most rural areas create biogas. This allowed the country to spread the development of biogas to the most people with the lowest barriers to its proliferation.
If India can learn from the strategy that China has employed, they may be able to give their biogas production a significant boost which will also help in the rejuvenation of biomass sector in the country. Doing so will require the help and willingness of both the people and the government. Either way, this is an industry with a lot of room for growth.
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