The high rate of population growth, urbanization and economic expansion in the Middle East is not only accelerating consumption rates but also increasing the generation rate of all sorts of waste. The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries is estimated at more than 150 million tons annually. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation.
Saudi Arabia produces around 15 million tons of garbage each year. With an approximate population of about 28 million, the kingdom produces approximately 1.3 kilograms of waste per person every day. According to a recent study conducted by Abu Dhabi Center for Waste Management, the amount of waste in UAE totaled 4.892 million tons, with a daily average of 6935 tons in the city of Abu Dhabi, 4118 tons in Al Ain and 2349 tons in the western region. Countries like Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar have astonishingly high per capita waste generation rate, primarily because of high standard of living and lack of awareness about sustainable waste management practices.
In Middle East countries, huge quantity of sewage sludge is produced on daily basis which presents a serious problem due to its high treatment costs and risk to environment and human health. On an average, the rate of wastewater generation is 80-200 litres per person each day and sewage output is rising by 25 percent every year. According to estimates from the Drainage and Irrigation Department of Dubai Municipality, sewage generation in the Dubai increased from 50,000 m3 per day in 1981 to 400,000 m3 per day in 2006.
Municipal solid waste in the Middle East is mainly comprised of organics, paper, glass, plastics, metals, wood etc. Municipal solid waste can be converted into energy by conventional technologies (such as incineration, mass-burn and landfill gas capture) or by modern conversion systems (such as anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis).
At the landfill sites, the gas produced by the natural decomposition of MSW is collected from the stored material and scrubbed and cleaned before feeding into internal combustion engines or gas turbines to generate heat and power. In addition, the organic fraction of MSW can be anaerobically stabilized in a high-rate digester to obtain biogas for electricity or steam generation.
Anaerobic digestion is the most preferred option to extract energy from sewage, which leads to production of biogas and organic fertilizer. The sewage sludge that remains can be incinerated or gasified/pyrolyzed to produce more energy. In addition, sewage-to-energy processes also facilitate water recycling.
Thus, municipal solid waste can also be efficiently converted into energy and fuels by advanced thermal technologies. Infact, energy recovery from MSW is rapidly gaining worldwide recognition as the 4th R in sustainable waste management system – Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and Recover.
There is a huge demand for charcoal briquettes in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE. However the production of charcoal in the Middle East is in nascent stages despite the availability of biomass resources, especially date palm biomass. The key reason for increasing demand of charcoal briquettes is the large consumption of meat in the region which uses charcoal briquettes as fuel for barbecue, outdoor grills and related activities.
The raw materials for charcoal briquette production are widely available across the Middle East in the form of date palm biomass, crop wastes and woody biomass. With a population of date palm trees of 84 million or 70% of the world’s population, the potential biomass waste from date palm trees is estimated at 730,000 tons / year (approximately 200,000 tons from Saudi Arabia and 300,000 tons from Egypt). Date palm trees produce huge amount of agricultural wastes in the form of dry leaves, stems, pits, seeds etc. A typical date tree can generate as much as 20 kilograms of dry leaves per annum while date pits account for almost 10 percent of date fruits.
The fronds and trunks of date palm trees are potential raw materials for charcoal because of the potential to produce high calorific value and low ash content charcoal. Leaf waste will produce a low calorific value due to high ash content. In addition, woody biomass waste such as cotton stalks that are widely available in Egypt can also be a raw material for making charcoal. The contribution of the agricultural sector in Egypt is quite high at 13.4%.
Charcoal is compacted into briquettes for ease in handling, packaging, transportation and use. Briquettes can be made in different shapes such as oval, hexagonal, cube, cylinder or octagonal. An adhesive (called binder) is needed for the manufacture of the briquette. Two common binders are saw dust and corn starch.
Date palm biomass is an excellent resource for charcoal production in Middle East
Continuous pyrolysis is the best technology for charcoal production. Continuous pyrolysis has the ability to handle large biomass volumes, the process is fast and smoke production is negligible. When using conventional pyrolysis technology (or batch carbonization), the process is lengthy, processing capacity is small and there are concerns related to harmful smoke emissions.
Apart from charcoal, continuous pyrolysis also gives bio oil, wood vinegar and syngas. Syngas can be converted into electricity by using a gas engine or converted into a wide variety of biofuels through different processes. Bio oil can be used as boiler fuel and marine fuel. Wood vinegar can be used as biopesticide and liquid organic fertilizer. Low water content in date palm waste fronds and trunks make it very suitable for thermochemical conversion technologies, especially pyrolysis and gasification.
Charcoal can also be used for the production of activated charcoal/carbon. Activated carbon is used by a lot of industries for purification processes. In addition, a number of industries that are using petcoke as fuel can switch to charcoal due to its better combustion properties and eco-friendly nature.
A combination of high fuel prices and a search for alternative technologies, combined with massive waste generation has led to countries in the Middle East region to consider Waste to Energy (or WtE) as a sustainable waste management strategy and cost-effective fuel source for the future. We look at the current state of the WtE market in the region.
It is estimated that each person in the United Arab Emirates produces 2 kg of municipal solid waste per day – that puts the total waste production figure somewhere in the region of 150 million tonnes every year. Given that the population currently stands at over 9.4 million (2013) and is projected to see an annual average growth figure of 2.3% over the next six years, over three times the global average, it’s clear that this is a lot of waste to be disposed of. In addition, the GCC nations in general rank in the bottom 10% of the sustainable nations in the world and are also amongst the top per capita carbon-releasers.
When we also consider that UAE are actively pursuing alternative energy technologies to supplement rapidly-decreasing and increasingly-costly traditional fossil fuels, mitigate the harmful effects of landfill, and reduce an ever-increasing carbon footprint, it becomes apparent that high on their list of proposed solutions is Waste to Energy (WtE). It could be an ideal solution to the problem.
What is WtE
Waste-to-Energy works on the simple principle of taking waste and turning it into a form of energy. This can be electricity, heat or transport fuels, and can be achieved in a variety of ways – the most common of which is incineration. MSW is taken to a WtE plant, incinerated at high temperatures and the resultant heat is used to boil water which creates steam to turn turbines, in the same way that burning gas or coal produces power. Gasification and anaerobic digestion are two further WtE methods which are also used.
However, WtE has several advantages over burning fossil fuels. Primarily amongst them are the potential to minimise landfill sites which have caused serious concern for many years. They are not only unsightly, but can also be contaminated, biologically or chemically. Toxic waste can leach into the ground beneath them and enter the water table.
Landfill sites also continuously emit carbon dioxide and methane, both harmful greenhouse gases – in addition methane is potentially explosive. Sending MSW to landfill also discourages recycling and necessitates more demand for raw materials. Finally, landfill sites are unpleasant places which attract vermin and flies and give off offensive odours.
WtE has been used successfully in many countries around the world for a long time now. Europe is the most enthusiastic proponent of WtE, with around 450 facilities; the Asia-Pacific region has just over 300; the USA has almost 100. In the rest of the world there are less than 30 facilities but this number is growing. Globally, it is estimated that the WtE industry is growing at approximately US $2 billion per annum and will be valued at around US $80 billion by the year 2022.
The USA ranks third in the world for the percentage of waste which is incinerated for energy production. Around 16% of the rubbish that America produces every day is burned in its WtE plants. Advocates claims the advantages are clear: reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the environment (estimates say that burning one ton of waste in a WtE plant saves between one half and one ton of greenhouse gases compared to landfill emissions, or the burning of conventional fuels), freeing up land which would normally be used for landfill (and, therefore, extending the life of existing landfill sites), encouraging recycling (some facilities have managed to reduce the amount of waste they process by up to 90% and the recycling of ferrous and non-ferrous metals provides an additional income source), and, perhaps most importantly, producing a revenue stream from the sale of the electricity generated.
In one small county alone, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a population of just over half-a-million people, more than 4.4 billion kWh of electricity has been produced through WtE in the last 20 years. This has generated over USD $256 million through its sale to local residents.
Waste-to-Energy in the Middle East
Given WtE’s potential to not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution on a local scale, but also to produce much-needed electricity in the region, what is the current state of affairs in the Middle East. There are several WtE initiatives already underway in the region. Qatar was the first GCC country to implement a waste-to-energy programme and currently generates over 30MW of electricity from its Domestic Solid Waste Management Center (DSWMC) located at Messeid (Doha). Saudi Arabia and the UAE have both stated that they have WtE production capacity targets of 100MW. Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman are also seriously considering waste-to-energy as a means to tackle the worsening waste management problem.
Abu Dhabi’s government is currently spending around US $850 million to build a 100 MW plant which is expected to be operational by 2017 and which will supply around 20,000 households with electricity. In Sharjah, the world’s largest household waste gasification plant, costing in excess of US $480 million, is due to be open in 2015.
However, not all the GCC members are as enthusiastic about WtE. Dubai’s government has recently scrapped plans for a US $2 billion project which would have made use of the 7,800 tonnes of domestic waste which is produced in Dubai every single day.
We asked Salman Zafar, Founder of Doha-based EcoMENA, a popular sustainability advocacy, why given the sheer scale of the waste in the Gulf region, the production of this form of energy is still in its infancy. “The main deterrent in the implementation of WtE projects in the Middle East is the current availability of cheap sources of energy already available, especially in the GCC,” he commented.
Salman Zafar further says, “WtE projects demand a good deal of investment, heavy government subsidies, tipping fees, power purchase agreements etc, which are hard to obtain for such projects in the region.” “The absence of a sustainable waste management strategy in Middle East nations is also a vital factor behind the very slow pace of growth of the WtE sector in the region. Regional governments, municipalities and local SWM companies find it easier and cost-effective to dump untreated municipal waste in landfills,” he added.
So, how can WtE contribute towards the region’s growing power demand in the future?
“Modern WtE technologies, such as RDF-based incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion etc, all have the ability to transform power demand as well as the waste management scenario in the region,” he continued. “A typical 250 – 300 tons per day WtE plant can produce around 3 – 4 MW of electricity and a network of such plants in cities across the region can make a real difference in the energy sector as well as augmenting energy reserves in the Middle East. In fact, WtE plants also produce a tremendous about of heat energy which can be utilised in process industries, further maximising their usefulness,” Salman Zafar concluded.
New technologies naturally take time to become established as their efficiency versus cost ratios are analysed. However, it is becoming increasingly clearer that waste-to-energy is a viable and efficient method for solid waste management and generation of alternative energy in the Middle East.
The growing amount of e-waste is gaining more and more attention on the global agenda. In 2017, e-waste production is expected to reach up to 48 million metric tons worldwide. The biggest contributors to this volume are highly developed nations, with the top three places of this inglorious ranking going to Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.
In Norway, each inhabitant produces a massive 28.3 kg of e-waste every year. Not far behind the top ten of this ranking lie GCC member states, with both Kuwait and UAE producing each 17.2 kg e-waste per capita per year. Saudi Arabia with its many times larger population produces least e-waste per capita among all GCC countries, with 12.5 kg a year.
Link between Development and E-Waste
Recent research suggests that there is evidence of a strong link between economic development and the generation of e-waste. Due to rapid urbanization growth rates along with a substantial increase in the standard of living, more people develop a consumerist culture. With rising disposable income, people replace their technology more frequently, as soon there are upgraded gadgets on the market. This development is aggravated by technological progress, which renders shorter life spans of products.
Complexity of E-Waste
E-waste is not only a fast-growing waste stream but also complex, as it contains a large variety of different products. This makes it extremely difficult to manage. The rapid technology development and the emergence of items such as smart clothes will render e-waste management even more difficult in the future. Dealing with e-waste is not only toxic for workers with direct contact to it, but also the dumpsites on which e-waste is stored can have severe environmental impacts on the surrounding areas. Many developed countries export the bulk of their e-waste to developing countries, where it is recovered using extremely harmful methods for both human and the environment.
Out of the total e-waste produced world-wide, only about 15% are collected by official take-back schemes. The European Union is one of the few regions in the world with uniform legislation regarding the collection and processing of e-waste. The WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive took effect in 2003 and was designed to make manufacturers of appliances responsible for their equipment at the end of its life, a system known as extended producer responsibility (EPR).
An Untapped Opportunity
However, e-waste should not only be seen as a problem which more and more developed countries have to face. According to statistics, the intrinsic material value of global e-waste is estimated to be 48 billion euros in 2014. Even though the large part of e-waste constitutes of iron and steel, precious metals such as gold, copper, palladium, silver, platinum, cobalt, and more provide economic incentive for recycling. In addition to the intrinsic material value, there are more benefits to e-waste recycling, such as job and employment creation.
In addition to these economic benefits, the recycling of electronic waste products also ensures to reduce environmental pollution by conserving virgin resources, whose extraction goes along with severe damages to entire ecosystems.
Situation in GCC Countries
In almost all GCC countries, there is minimal to zero legislation on e-waste, with minor differences between the respective counties. Kuwait as one of the biggest per capita e-waste producers among the GCC nations uses the same landfills for both conventional and e-waste. Bahrain operates only one landfill for the entire country, but there are several recycling initiatives in place, aiming at separating plastics, metals and paper. Still, there is no comprehensive law on e-waste management. Saudi Arabia possesses the biggest total amount of e-waste among the GCC countries. There are private companies, initiatives and Non-Profit-Organizations currently working on e-waste recycling, but there is no regulated system in place.
Oman does not have regulations or facilities to deal with e-waste, but the country has recently stated the realization of a need for it. Qatar has also recognized the need to address the waste management issue, but no concrete actions have been taken. The most advanced momentum regarding e-waste of all GCC countries can be found in the UAE. In some waste management centers, there are facilities where e-waste is classified and sorted out specifically. The UAE government is currently developing regulation and facilities to for sound e-waste recycling.
The Way Forward
As we have seen, in many GCC countries the need for e-waste legislation is widely recognized. E-waste management provides an opportunity and a huge potential in the entire Middle East, primarily due to four reasons. First, e-waste management is a source of employment for both highly skilled and unskilled workers. This could help to transfer employment from the public to the private sector, which is a goal of many Gulf countries. Second, e-waste recycling can also minimize costs, as less landfill space is being used. In Bahrain, the only existing landfill is expected to reach its capacity in the next years, and poses furthermore a health risks for the population as it is close to urban areas.
The most advanced momentum regarding e-waste in the GCC can be found in the UAE.
Third, the intrinsic value of e-waste with its precious metals provide economic incentive for recycling. As reserves for many metals decrease drastically, the economic value of these resources is expected to increase. And fourth, developments in e-waste management provide opportunities for industry and environmental research. Innovative and efficient recycling processes could be developed and transferred to other countries.
In order to fulfill this potential for e-waste management in GCC countries, the first step is to develop a sound regulatory framework in order to ensure private sector participation. Additionally, programs to increase public awareness for waste and in specific e-waste need to be developed, which is necessary for an integrated e-waste management system.
Kusch, S. & Hills, C.D. (2017). The Link between e-Waste and GDP—New Insights from Data from the Pan-European Region. Resources 6 (15); doi:10.3390/resources6020015
Baldé, C.P., Wang, F., Kuehr, R. & Huisman, J. (2015). The global e-waste monitor – 2014. United Nations University, IAS – SCYCLE. Bonn, Germany
Cucchiella, F., D’Adamo, I., Lenny Koh, S.C. & Rosa, P. (2015). Recycling of WEEEs: An economic assessment of present and future e-waste streams. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (51); doi:10.1016/j.rser.2015.06.010
Alghazo, J. & Ouda, O. (2016). Electronic Waste Management and security in GCC Countries: A Growing Challenge. Conference Paper.
MENA region has an attractive market for renewables due to abundant availability of solar and wind resources. According to a recent IRENA report, the region is anticipating renewable energy investment of $35 billion per year by 2020. Recently, the MENA region has received some of the lowest renewable energy prices awarded globally for solar PV and wind energy.
Among MENA countries, Morocco has emerged as a role model for the entire region. The government’s target of 2GW of solar and 2GW of wind power by 2020 is progressing smoothly with the commissioning of Nour-1 Solar project. Jordan and Egypt are also making steady progress in renewable energy sector.
As far as GCC is concerned, the UAE has also shown serious commitment to develop solar energy. The 100MW Shams CSP plant has been operational since 2014 in Abu Dhabi while 13MW Phase I of Dubai’s solar park was completed in 2013. In Saudi Arabia, the newly launched Vision 2030 document has put forward a strong regulatory and investment framework to develop Saudi clean energy sector which should catalyse renewable energy development in the country.
Renewables – A boon for MENA
Renewable energy has multiple advantages for MENA in the form of energy security, improved air quality, reduced GHG emissions, employment opportunities, apart from augmenting water and food security.
The business case for renewable energy proliferation in MENA is strengthened by plentiful availability of natural energy resources and tumbling solar PV technology costs which are leading to record low renewable power generation costs. The recent auction for the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park 2 in Dubai yielded prices as low as 5.85 US cents per kWh which is one of the lowest worldwide.
Impact of Falling Costs
The falling costs will have a significant positive impact in the developing world where tens of millions of people still lack access to cheap and reliable supply of energy. Reducing costs will help MENA, especially GCC, to meet its target of steady transition towards renewable energy and thus reducing dependence on fossil fuels for power generation and seawater desalination.
The slump in renewable energy tariffs will also encourage utility companies in emerging markets to include more renewable energy in transmission and meet the targets set by respective countries. However, it should also be noted that there have been several instances where the actual renewable energy production failed to take place because of low bids.
Off-grid renewable energy technologies have tremendous potential to popularize clean energy among remote and marginalized communities across the world. Access to clean, reliable and relatively cheap energy from renewable resources, especially solar power, will usher in a new era in developing countries. Off-grid (or standalone) renewable power systems are already making a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of people across the developing world.
In recent years, Morocco has made remarkably swift progress in renewable energy sector.
Advancements in battery energy storage have pushed this particular sector into media as well as public spotlight. With big industry names like Tesla and Nissan leading from the front, energy storage technologies are expected to make great contribution in transition to green grid powered by intermittent energy sources like solar PV, CSP, wind and biomass.
Concentrated solar power (CSP) has the potential to transform seawater desalination industry, one of the largest energy consumers in the Middle East. CSP offers an attractive option to power industrial-scale desalination plants that require both high temperature fluids and electricity. CSP can provide stable energy supply for continuous operation of desalination plants, based on thermal or membrane processes. Leading CSP technology companies are already taking a keen interest in Middle East CSP market and rapid developments are expected in the coming years.
Key Hurdles to Overcome
Lack of strong regulatory framework, low renewable energy tariffs and weak off-take mechanisms are some of the issues confronting renewable energy projects in MENA. Regulatory framework in the GCC is in early stages and marred by heavy subsidy for oil and gas. The largest barrier to growth of solar sector in MENA has been the lack of renewable energy policy framework, legislations, institutional support, feed-in-tariffs and grid access.
The power sector in MENA is, by and large, dominated by state utilities which discourage entrepreneurs and Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to enter the local markets. Lack of open and transparent market conditions in MENA are acting as deterrent for investors, technology companies and project developers.
Among regional countries, Jordan and Morocco have the most advanced legal infrastructure in place to support renewable energy projects, followed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Tips for New Entrants
MENA solar market is complex due to different electricity market structure and myriad challenges in each country. Different countries have different motivations for renewable energy. Solar companies who want to foray in MENA market must give special attention to land access, grid access, transparent licensing schemes, high-quality meteorological data, creditworthy customers, long-term off-take contracts, soiling of PV panels and related issues.
Middle East is one of the most prolific waste generating regions worldwide with per capita waste production in several countries averaging more than 2 kg per day . High standards of living, ineffective legislation, infrastructural roadblocks, indifferent public attitude and lack of environmental awareness are the major factors responsible for growing waste management problem in the Middle East. Lavish lifestyles are contributing to more generation of waste which when coupled with lack of waste collection and disposal facilities have transformed ‘trash’ into a liability.
The general perception towards waste is that of indifference and apathy. Waste is treated as ‘waste’ rather than as a ‘resource’. There is an urgent need to increase public awareness about environmental issues, waste management practices and sustainable living. Public participation in community-level waste management initiatives is lackluster mainly due to low level of environmental awareness and public education. Unfortunately none of the countries in the region have an effective source-segregation mechanism.
Waste management in Middle East is bogged down by deficiencies in waste management legislation and poor planning. Many countries lack legislative framework and regulations to deal with wastes. Insufficient funds, absence of strategic waste management plans, lack of coordination among stakeholders, shortage of skilled manpower and deficiencies in technical and operational decision-making are some of the hurdles experienced in implementing an integrated waste management strategy in the region. In many countries waste management is the sole prerogative of state-owned companies and municipalities which discourage participation of private companies and entrepreneurs.
Many Middle East nations lack legislative framework and regulations to deal with urban wastes.
Due to lack of garbage collection and disposal facilities, dumping of waste in open spaces, deserts and water bodies is a common sight across the region. Another critical issue is lack of awareness and public apathy towards waste reduction, source segregation and waste management.
A sustainable waste management system demands high degree of public participation, effective laws, sufficient funds and modern waste management practices/technologies. The region can hope to improve waste management scenario by implementing source-segregation, encouraging private sector participation, deploying recycling and waste-to-energy systems, and devising a strong legislative and institutional framework.
The Way Forward
In recent year, several countries, like Qatar, UAE and Oman, have established ambitious solid waste management projects but their efficacy is yet to be ascertained. On the whole, Middle East countries are slowly, but steadily, gearing up to meet the challenge posed by waste management by investing heavily in such projects, sourcing new technologies and raising public awareness. However the pace of progress is not matched by the increasing amount of waste generated across the region. Sustainable waste management is a big challenge for policy-makers, urban planners and other stake-holders, and immediate steps are needed to tackle mountains of wastes accumulating in cities throughout the Middle East.
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