Unending Benefits of Biomass Energy

Biomass is material originating from plant and animal matter. Biomass energy uses biomass to create energy by burning organic materials. The heat energy released through burning these materials can heat homes or water. Heated water produces steam, which in turn can generate electricity. Using organic materials to create heat and power is an eco-friendlier alternative compared to using fossil fuels.

Indefinitely Renewable

The majority of the world’s energy comes from burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are a finite resource. Once fossil fuel resources run out, new fuel sources will be needed to meet global energy demands. Biomass offers a solution to meet this need.

Organic waste material from agriculture and logging operations, animal manure, and sludge from wastewater treatment are all viable fuels for generating biomass energy. As long as the earth is inhabited, these materials will be readily available.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Waste organic material that would typically be disposed of in landfills could be redirected for biomass energy use. This reduces the amount of material in landfills and slows the rate at which landfills are filled. Some of the most common waste products used for biomass energy are wood chips and agricultural waste products. Wood materials can easily be converted from already existing wood structures that will be destroyed, such as wooden furniture and log cabins, preferably both would also come from responsible logging and practices as well.

As more organic material is diverted from landfills, the number of new landfills needed would be reduced. Older landfills are at risk for leaking leachate. Leachate contains many environmental pollutants that can contaminate groundwater sources.

Burning fossil fuel releases carbon into the atmosphere which was previously trapped below ground. Trapped carbon isn’t at risk for contributing to global climate change since it can’t interact with air. Each time fossil fuels are burned, they allow previously trapped carbon to enter the atmosphere and contribute to global climate change. In comparison, biofuel is carbon-neutral.

The materials used to create biomass energy naturally release carbon into the environment as they decompose. Living plants and trees use carbon dioxide to grow and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide released by burning organic material will be absorbed by existing plants and trees. The biomass cycle is carbon-neutral as no new carbon is introduced to the system.

Smaller Carbon Footprint

The amount of unused farmland is increasing as agriculture becomes more efficient. Maintaining open land is expensive. As a result, farmers are selling off their property for new developments. Unused open agricultural land could be used to grow organic material for biofuels.

Converting open tracts of land to developed areas increases the amount of storm-water runoff. Storm-water runoff from developed areas contains more pollutants than storm-water runoff from undeveloped areas. Using open areas to grow biomass sources instead of creating new developments would reduce water pollution.

Biomass-Resources

A quick glance at popular biomass resources

Forested areas also provide sources of biofuel material. Open land converted to sustainable forestry would create new animal habitats and offset carbon emissions from existing fossil fuel sources as more plants and trees would be available to absorb carbon dioxide.

Societal Benefits

Burning fossil fuels releases sulfur dioxide, mercury and particulate matter into the atmosphere which can cause asthma, cancer and respiratory problems. Biomass energy emits less harmful byproducts compared to fossil fuels, which means cleaner air and healthier people.

Biofuel can improve rural economies by providing more people with unused land the opportunity to grown biomass material for energy use. Workers would be needed to harvest and process the materials needed to generate biofuel.

Since biofuel is a renewable energy source, energy providers can receive tax credits and incentives. Countries with land resources will be less reliant on foreign fossil fuel providers and can improve their local economies.

Increasing biofuel energy usage can reduce forest fires. Selectively reducing brush can still reduce the risk of wildfires spreading. Exposing underbrush and groundcover to rainfall decreases the change of it drying out and creating optimal, fire spreading conditions.

Denmark and Biomass Energy

Denmark is an example of how effective biomass energy can be in developing energy efficiency. Approximately 70 percent of renewable-energy consumption in Denmark comes from biomass.

Woody biomass creates an increasing percentage of heating from combined heat and power (CHP) plants with a goal to for 100 percent of hearing to be derived from woody biomass by 2035. Another form of biomass is agricultural biomass. This form utilizes materials such as straw and corn to create end-products like electricity, heating and biofuels.

The Danish Energy Agency has developed a plan including four scenarios that will help Denmark become fossil fuel free by 2050. The biomass scenario involves CHP for electricity and district heating, indicating that biomass energy is important in Denmark’s energy sector today and will play an increasingly important role in the future.

Biomass offers an eco-friendly and renewable method of reducing pollution and the effects of global climate change. And, like other forms of renewable energy, the products needed to develop biomass energy are readily available.

Product Life-Cycle Assessment: Closing the Loop

product-life-cycle-assessmentIf you’re interested in green and environmental issues you may have heard the phrase ‘life-cycle assessment’ in relation to a particular product. It can be difficult to ascertain exactly what this life-cycle assessment involves – so we’re hoping to shed some light on the process, the different types of assessment that take place and explain what’s involved with each step.

A look at the bigger picture

Essentially, a product life-cycle assessment takes an overall view of that item’s impact on the environment – and in doing so, offers a true picture of how green that product really is. The aim is for consumers, manufacturers and policy makers to be given a true environmental picture of any product.

Although it’s an example that divides the opinion of environmentalists around the world, the Toyota Prius provides an interesting picture of why the product life-cycle assessment is required in a world driven by a company’s desire to be seen as green. The Prius is an electric-hybrid car which Toyota claims delivers an impressive 60 miles per gallon of fuel – a statistic that puts it as a firm environmental favourite.

However, there are claims that the construction methods used to create the batteries that power the Prius are hugely detrimental to the environment – with some sources saying the manufacturing plant impacts the environment so greatly that by the time a Prius is driven from the showroom – it’s already had the environmental impact it would take any other car 1,000 gallons of fuel to match.

What’s the verdict?

So, is the Prius good or bad? That’s not for us to decide – and we’re not suggesting one way or another, we’re simply using this as an illustration of how complex any environmental consideration can be in a product with such an intensive manufacturing process and prolonged lifespan. At the other end of the calculation you’d have to consider how long the Prius will run for – and whether that balances a supposedly negative building method.

Ingredients of product life-cycle assessment

The assessment is ordinarily broken down into different stages:

Extraction and processing of raw materials

This is a full understanding of the journey from source to point of manufacture that the building blocks of any product take. For example, in the manufacture of a table you would begin by looking at the trees that provide the wood, the logging process that takes them from forest to timber yard and the impact of the machinery used throughout that process.

You would repeat this process for every raw material that goes into the table’s manufacture.

Manufacturing

Next comes the manufacturing itself – if machinery or any industrial process is used to piece our table together then resources used in that process must be considered when we look at the overall impact of the product on the environment.

Packaging

The packaging that a product is delivered in is effectively another product in itself. Although unlikely in our table example, it’s not uncommon for extravagant packaging to represent 10-20% of a product’s recommended retail price. Curtis Packaging, an award-winning UK based sustainable packaging company suggest manufacturers pay careful consideration to the impact of packaging on a product’s overall green credentials – from raw materials to the point of disposal, the packing that adorns your product can have serious environmental considerations.

Marketing

At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking marketing a product comes with no environmental impact – but you’d be wrong. From the printing of advertising materials – to the sales team’s 20,000 annual miles in company vehicles – there can be a lot of resource put into any marketing process. However, measurement is no mean feat – companies can find it difficult to differentiate between their overall carbon footprint and that associated with any one product.

Product use, re-use and maintenance

This is where the impact of a product moves from the manufacturer and into the hands of the consumer. What does typical use look like? How long is a product being used for? Does one person’s use vary compared to another’s? For our example table, the answers could be fairly simple – on the other hand, there’s a huge amount of variation when you look at a broad range of car drivers.

Packaging that adorns your product can have serious environmental impact.

Packaging that adorns your product can have serious environmental impact.

For any product that requires maintenance, the LCA just became much more complex (again!) – just as packaging represented an entirely separate product that requires its own assessment – a similar process is required when a car receives a tank of fuel, a top up of coolant, brake fluid, spark plugs, brake pads… hopefully you get the picture (hint – it’s complex and sprawling!)

However difficult it might be to anticipate, it’s an environmental imperative that big industry is aware of the impact they have – even when their product has left their hands.

Recycling, disposal and waste at the end of the product’s life

From pizza boxes to old cars, it’s easy to think of their job as being done when they’re waved off to a recycling bin or breaker’s yard – but environmentally this could just be the beginning of their impact.

In terms of recycling – the effort and impact of the process must be outweighed by the benefit of the salvaged material, it’s often in life-cycle assessments that decisions are made around what is worth recycling – and what should be destined for landfill. If landfill is the ultimate resting place for any product, what does the deterioration process look like and what does that mean to the environment in the short, medium and long-term?

Then, to bring the assessment cycle full circle – any product that can be processed and re-used re-enters the assessment cycle back at the extraction and processing of raw materials stage…

Ultimately, what is the life-cycle assessment done for?

There’s no one reason that a life-cycle assessment is done. For some companies, they’re keen to explain the full back-story of the product. For others, it can be an exercise in understanding the full process and highlighting any areas that can be financially streamlined – it certainly provides a solid baseline from which improvements can be made.

For the most environmentally ethical companies, the life-cycle assessment gives a true picture of the impact they have on the well-being of the planet – and offers a chance to get a full and honest picture of the moves they and their partners can make in creating a product that fulfils the requirements of the environment – as well as those of the customer and shareholders.

Waste-to-Energy in Saudi Arabia

waste-jeddahUrban waste management has emerged as a big challenge for the government and local bodies in Saudi Arabia. The country generates more than 15 million tons of municipal solid waste each year with per capita waste production estimated to be 2 kg per day, among the highest worldwide. Municipal waste production in three largest cities – Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam – exceeds 6 million tons per annum which gives an indication of the enormity of the problem faced by civic bodies.

The Problem of Waste

Municipal waste generation in Saudi Arabia is increasing at an unprecedented rate. Due to high population growth rate, rapid urbanization and fast-paced economic development, MSW generation is expected to cross 30 million tons per year by 2033. More than 75 percent of Kingdom’s population is concentrated in urban areas, and collected garbage is thrown in landfills or dumpsites without any processing or treatment.

Most of the landfills in Saudi Arabia are non-sanitary and prone to problems like leachate, vermin, flies and spontaneous fires, apart from greenhouse gas emissions.  It has become necessary for the Saudi government to devise an integrated waste management strategy, using international best practices and modern technologies, to tackle heaps of garbage accumulating across the country.

Promise of Waste-to-Energy

Waste-to-energy provides a cost-effective and eco-friendly solution to both energy demand and MSW disposal problems in Saudi Arabia. Increasing waste generation, inability of existing solutions to tackle waste and expansion of cities into ex-dump sites are strong drivers for large-scale deployment of WTE systems in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has tremendous waste-to-energy potential due to plentiful availability of good quality municipal waste. Modern waste-to-energy technologies, such as RDF-based incineration, gasification, pyrolysis and anaerobic digestion have the ability to transform power demand and waste management scenario in the country.

A typical 250 – 300 tons per day garbage-to-energy plant can produce around 3 – 4 MW of electricity and a network of such plants in cities around the country can make a real difference in waste management as well as energy sectors.  In fact, such plants also produce tremendous about of heat energy which can be utilized in process industries and district cooling systems, further maximizing their usefulness.

Key Challenges

Around the world, waste-to-energy finds wide acceptance as a tool to manage urban wastes, with more than 1,000 waste-to-energy plants in operation globally, especially in Europe, China and the Asia-Pacific. However, waste-to-energy is struggling to get off-the-ground in Saudi Arabia due to several issues, the main reason being the cheap and plentiful availability of oil which prevents decision-makers to set effective regulations for waste-to-energy development in the country.

Waste-to-Energy is widely accepted as a part of sustainable waste management strategy worldwide.

Waste-to-Energy is widely accepted as a part of sustainable waste management strategy worldwide.

Policy-makers in KSA should consider waste-to-energy as a sustainable waste management solution, rather than as a power-producing industry. Unlike Western countries, waste management services are practically free-of-cost for the waste generators which act as a deterrent for governmental investment in new waste management solutions and technologies, such as waste-to-energy. Infact, waste collection, transport and disposal methods in Saudi Arabia do not match the standards of a developed country.

Future Outlook

Vision 2030, touted as most comprehensive economic reform package in Saudi history, puts forward a strong regulatory and investment framework to develop Saudi waste-to-energy sector. An ambitious target of 3GW of energy from waste is to be achieved by 2025.  A methodical introduction of modern waste management techniques like material recovery facilities, waste-to-energy systems and recycling infrastructure can significantly improve waste management scenario and can also generate good business opportunities.

To sum up, environmental issues associated with non-sanitary landfills, ineffectiveness of prevalent waste management model and rising energy demand are key drivers for development of waste-to-energy sector in Saudi Arabia.

Solid Waste Management in South Asia: Key Lessons

swm-south-asiaSolid waste management is already a significant concern for municipal governments across South Asia. It constitutes one of their largest costs and the problem is growing year on year as urban populations swell. As with all waste management experiences, we have learned lessons and can see scope for improvement.

Collection and Transportation

There are two factors which have a significant impact on the costs and viability of a waste management system as it relates to collection and transportation: first, the distance travelled between collection and disposal point; and second, the extent to which ‘wet’ kitchen waste can be kept separate from dry waste much of which can be recycled. Separating waste in this way reduces the costs of manual sorting later on, and increases the prices for recyclable materials.

In many larger towns distances become too great for door-to-door collectors to dispose waste directly at the dump site. Arrangements are made to dispose of waste at secondary storage points (large skips) provided by the municipality. However, where these are not regularly emptied, the waste is likely to be spread beyond the bins, creating a further environmental hazard.

Ideally, and if suitable land can be found, a number of smaller waste disposal sites located around a town would eliminate this problem. With significant public awareness efforts on our part, and continual daily reminders to home-owners, we were able to raise the rate of household separation to about 60%, but once these reminders became less frequent, the rate dropped rapidly back to around 25%. The problem is compounded in larger cities by the unavailability of separated secondary storage bins, so everything is mixed up again at this point anyway, despite the best efforts of householders.

If rates are to be sustained, it requires continual and on-going promotion in the long term. The cost of this has to be weighed against the financial benefit of cleaner separated waste and reduced sorting costs. Our experience in Sri Lanka shows how important a role the Local Authority can play in continuing to promote good solid waste management practices at the household level.

Home Composting

Our experience with home composting shows that complete coverage, with every household using the system, is very unlikely to be achieved. Where we have promoted it heavily and in co-operation with the Local Authority we have found the sustained use of about 65% of the bins. Even this level of coverage, however, can have an important impact on waste volumes needing to be collected and disposed of. At the same time it can provide important, organic inputs to home gardening, providing a more varied and nutritious diet for poor householders.

Waste to Compost and Energy

The variety of technologies we have demonstrated have different advantages and disadvantages. For some, maintenance is more complicated and there can be issues of clogging. For the dry-fermentation chambers, there is a need for a regular supply of fresh waste that has not already decomposed. For other systems requiring water, quite large amounts may be needed. All of these technical challenges can be overcome with good operation and maintenance practices, but need to be factored in when choosing the appropriate technology for a given location.

The major challenge for compost production has been to secure regular sales. The market for compost is seasonal, and this creates an irregular cash flow that needs to be factored in to the business model. In Bangladesh, a significant barrier has been the need for the product to be officially licensed. The requirements for product quality are exacting in order to ensure farmers are buying a product they can trust. However, the need for on-site testing facilities may be too prescriptive, creating a barrier for smaller-scale operations of this sort. Possibly a second tier of license could be created for compost from waste which would allow sales more easily but with lower levels of guarantees for farmers.

Safe Food Production and Consumption

Community people highly welcomed the concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost. In Sri Lanka, women been practicing vertical gardening which meeting the daily consumption needs became source of extra income for the family. Female organic fertilizer entrepreneurs in Bangladesh are growing seasonal vegetables and fruits with compost and harvesting more quality products. They sell these products with higher price in local and regional markets as this is still a niche market in the country. The safe food producers require financial and regulatory support from the government and relevant agencies on certification and quality control to raise and sustain market demand.

The concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost is picking up in South Asia

The concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost is picking up in South Asia

Conclusion

Solid waste management is an area that has not received the attention it deserves from policy-makers in South Asia nations. There are signs this may change, with its inclusion in the SDGs and in many INDCs which are the basis of the Paris Climate Agreement. If we are to meet the challenge, we will need new approaches to partnerships, and the adoption of different kinds of systems and technologies. This will require greater awareness and capacity building at the Local Authority level. If national climate or SDG targets are to be met, they will need to be localised through municipalities. Greater knowledge sharing at national and regional levels through municipal associations, regional bodies such as SAARC and regional local authority associations such as Citynet, will be an important part of this.

Practical Action’s key messages for regional and national policy makers, based on our experience in the region in the last 5 years, are about the need for:

  • creating new partnerships for waste collection with NGOs and the informal sector,
  • considering more decentralised approaches to processing and treatment, and
  • recognising the exciting potential for viable technologies for generating more value from waste

Barcode as a Tool to Reduce Plastic Pollution

plastic-worldThe measures implemented by the current recycling model, which are focused on producer responsibility and final consumer awareness, are not enough to prevent the continued accumulation of plastic waste in the oceans. For example, the Mediterranean Sea currently experience high levels of plastic pollution even if its coastline meets advanced countries.

“Barcode v/s Plastic Waste” continues forward the argument, including and controlling a crucial and forgotten player in the current model of consumption: retail or supermarkets. “Barcode vs Plastic Waste” offers an efficient, win-win-win model: a sustainable and dynamic circle, a cradle to cradle controlled process for this currently destructive material.

Consumers must continue recycling, but reality shows clear that the potential to decrease plastic waste could not depend only upon consumer awareness. A high percentage of plastic waste passes through supermarkets and, subsequently, the entire distribution channel.

While supermarkets do hold responsibility for ENCOURAGING THE USE of plastic and packaging, they also have the potential, although never considered before, to encourage and provide incentives to producers and consumers to reduce their plastic quantities or eliminate it all together.

Following “Barcode v/s Plastic Waste”, Governments should request supermarkets to be responsible for all plastic recollection associated with products they sell, while Public Administration would maintain the duty of control: the barcode which identifies any item sold, offers the possibility to track and account all plastics, containers or packaging by simply adding these information into the barcode.

Having the package information -weight and material composition- inside the barcode will offer an extremely easy way to obtain the necessary data to apply follow-up control over its recollection. We would be able to monitor the recyclable materials per gram through the entire transaction system in real-time, allowing us to review any cash register day by day. Having the package information (weight and material composition) inside the same barcode will offer an extremely easy way to obtain the necessary data to apply follow-up control over its recollection. (i.e. PET 2/45gr. – PET5/75gr. – etc.)

Supermarkets should be responsible for all plastic recollection associated with products they sell

Supermarkets should be responsible for all plastic recollection associated with products they sell

This new recycling process could reach the full capacity in three years, requesting 30% of plastic recollection quantity the first year, 60% the second 90-100% the third.

Considering that from the very first year, supermarkets would very likely push producers to introduce dispensers with refilling containers wherever possible, we would have a considerable reduction of single use plastic at the very beginning.

Along with a necessary law, just new software and a new logistic inside supermarkets will be enough to produce the change. By simply adding future trash into the same barcode already used on any item sold, we would transform millions of negative actions into positive, preventing the loss of tons of raw material with a final reduction of petrol demand. This information would be provided just as the cash register’s account balance appears at the end of the day. Supermarket cash registers are the last control in the commercial process.

Full length proposal is available here

Waste Management in SAARC: Priorities and Cooperation

waste-dump-bangladeshWaste management in the SAARC countries has occasionally been raised as an area for regional co-operation. It fits in with other more pressing regional concerns such as environmental degradation, food safety, power generation, poverty alleviation and trans-boundary technology transfer. The Dhaka Declaration on Waste Management of 2004, for example, recognises the environmental imperative to promote more effective waste management systems ‘with special attention to addressing the needs of the poor’.

Similarly, the SAARC action plan on Climate Change of 2008 listed waste management as an area for nationally appropriate mitigation actions where regional sharing of best practices could be useful. The 2010 convention on co-operation on the environment, also included waste management among a list of 19 areas for the exchange of best practices and knowledge, and transfer of eco-friendly technology. However, these commitments have rarely turned into concerted action.

Effectively tackling the growing waste management crisis has not proved easy for most municipalities. Their capacity to cope has not kept pace with the increasing quantities of waste generated, and yet waste management can be one of the biggest costs of municipal budgets. Often they are able to collect waste only from limited areas of their towns. For the South Asia region, waste collection rates are on average 65%, with wide variations between towns.

At the same time, there is often a very active recycling system through waste pickers and the informal sector, involving large numbers of poor people. Large schemes to recycle, separate and produce useful end-products such as compost have often run into problems if they relied too heavily on donor inputs. Once these were phased out they failed to generate sufficient income from sales to be sustainable.

A municipal drain choked by garbage in north Indian city of Aligarh

A municipal drain choked by garbage in north Indian city of Aligarh

Two global agreements signed in 2015 may help to raise the profile and stimulate greater action on solid waste management. First, the Sustainable Development Goals which include a goal focused on cities and sustainable urban development. Within this, target 11.6 is to “by 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management”. This is the first time a global agreement of this sort has included commitments on waste management. Second, the Paris Climate Agreement, with a number of South Asian countries including better management of urban waste as part of their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution.

Solid waste management is already a significant concern for municipal governments across the South Asian region. It constitutes one of their largest costs and the problem is growing year on year as urban populations swell. And yet it is an area that has not received the attention it deserves from policy-makers. There are signs this may change, with its inclusion in the SDGs and in many INDCs which are the basis of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Waste Management Challenges in Middle East

garbage-middle-eastMiddle 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.

Major Hurdles

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.

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.

Waste-to-Energy in India: An Interview with Salman Zafar

waste-mountainIndia’s waste-to-energy sector, which kicked off in 1987, is still searching for a successful role model, even after tens of millions of dollars of investment. In recent years, many ambitious waste-to-energy projects have been established or are being planned in different parts of the country, and it is hoped that things will brighten up in the coming years. Salman Zafar, CEO of BioEnergy Consult, talks to Power Today magazine on India’s tryst with waste-to-energy and highlights major challenges and obstacles in making waste-to-energy a success story in India.

Power Today: What are the challenges that the Waste to Energy sector faces in the current scenario where there is a rejuvenated interest in clean energy? Do you think the buzz around solar and wind power has relegated the Waste to Energy sector to the back benches?

Salman Zafar: India’s experience with waste-to-energy has been lackluster until now. The progress of waste-to-energy sector in India is hampered by multiples issues including

  1. poor quality of municipal waste,
  2. high capital and O&M costs of waste-to-energy systems,
  3. lack of indigenous technology,
  4. lack of successful projects and failure of several ambitious projects,
  5. lack of coordination between municipalities, state and central governments,
  6. heavy reliance on government subsidies,
  7. difficulties in obtaining long-term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with state electricity boards (SEBs)
  8. lukewarm response of banks and financial institutions and (9) weak supply chain.

Waste-to-energy is different from solar (or wind) as it essentially aims to reduce the colossal amount of solid wastes accumulating in cities and towns all over India. In addition to managing wastes, waste-to-energy has the added advantage of producing power which can be used to meet rapidly increasing energy requirements of urban India. In my opinion, waste-to-energy sector has attracted renewed interest in the last couple of years due to Swachch Bharat Mission, though government’s heavy focus on solar power has impacted the development of waste-to-energy as well as biomass energy sectors.

Power Today: India has a Waste to Energy potential of 17,000 MW, of which only around 1,365 MW has been realised so far. How much growth do you expect in the sector?

Salman Zafar: As per Energy Statistics 2015 (refer to http://mospi.nic.in/Mospi_New/upload/Energy_stats_2015_26mar15.pdf), waste-to-energy potential in India is estimated to be 2,556 MW, of which approximately 150 MW (around 6%) has been harnessed till March 2016.

The progress of waste-to-energy sector in India is dependent on resolution of MSW supply chain issues, better understanding of waste management practices, lowering of technology costs and flexible financial model. For the next two years, I am anticipating an increase of around 75-100 MW of installed capacity across India.

Power Today: On the technological front, what kinds of advancements are happening in the sector?

Salman Zafar: Nowadays, advanced thermal technologies like MBT, thermal depolymerisation, gasification, pyrolysis and plasma gasification are hogging limelight, mainly due to better energy efficiency, high conversion rates and less emissions. Incineration is still the most popular waste-to-energy technology, though there are serious emission concerns in developing countries as many project developers try to cut down costs by going for less efficient air pollution control system.

Power Today: What according to you, is the general sentiment towards setting up of Waste to Energy plants? Do you get enough cooperation from municipal bodies, since setting up of plants involves land acquisition and capital expenditure?

Salman Zafar: Waste-to-energy projects, be it in India or any other developing country, is plagued by NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) effect. The general attitude towards waste-to-energy is that of indifference resulting in lukewarm public participation and community engagement in such projects.

Government should setup dedicated waste-to-energy research centres to develop lost-cost and low-tech waste to energy solutions

Government should setup dedicated waste-to-energy research centres to develop lost-cost and low-tech waste to energy solutions

Lack of cooperation from municipalities is a major factor in sluggish growth of waste-to-energy sector in India. It has been observed that sometimes municipal officials connive with local politicians and ‘garbage mafia’ to create hurdles in waste collection and waste transport. Supply of poor quality feedstock to waste-to-energy plants by municipal bodies has led to failure of several high-profile projects, such as 6 MW MSW-to-biogas project in Lucknow, which was shut down within a year of commissioning due to waste quality issues.

Power Today: Do you think that government policies are in tandem when it comes to enabling this segment? What policies need to be changed, evolved or adopted to boost this sector?

Salman Zafar: A successful waste management strategy demands an integrated approach where recycling and waste-to-energy are given due importance in government policies. Government should strive to setup a dedicated waste-to-energy research centre to develop a lost-cost and low-tech solution to harness clean energy from millions of tons of waste generated in India.

The government is planning many waste-to-energy projects in different cities in the coming years which may help in easing the waste situation to a certain extent. However, government policies should be inclined towards inclusive waste management, whereby the informal recycling community is not robbed of its livelihood due to waste-to-energy projects.

Government should also try to create favourable policies for establishment of decentralized waste-to-energy plants as big projects are a logistical nightmare and more prone to failure than small-to-medium scale venture.

Note: This interview was originally published in June 2016 edition of Power Today magazine. The unabridged version is available at this link

Waste-to-Energy in China: Perspectives

garbage-chinaChina 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.

Prevalent Issues

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, 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.

Top Challenges

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”.

Future Perspectives

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

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.

Solid Waste Management in Pakistan

Karachi-Garbage-DumpSolid waste management situation in Pakistan is a matter of grave concern as more than 5 million people to die each year due to waste-related diseases. In Pakistan roughly 20 million tons of solid waste is generated annually, with annual growth rate of about 2.4 percent. Karachi, largest city in the country, generates more than 9,000 tons of municipal waste daily. All major cities, be it Islamabad, Lahore or Peshawar, are facing enormous challenges in tackling the problem of urban waste. The root factors for the worsening garbage problem in Pakistan are lack of urban planning, infrastructure, public awareness and endemic corruption.

Contributing Factors

Being the 6th most populated country in the world; there is a lot of consumerism and with it a great deal of waste being produced. Like other developing countries, waste management sector in Pakistan is plagued by a wide variety of social, cultural, legislative and economic issues.  In the country, more waste is being produced than the number of facilities available to manage it. Some of the major problems are:

  • There is no proper waste collection system
  • Waste is dumped on the streets
  • Different types of waste are not collected separately
  • There are no controlled sanitary landfill sites
  • Citizens are not aware of the relationship between reckless waste disposal and resulting environmental and public health problems

As a result of these problems, waste is accumulating and building up on roadsides, canals, and other common areas and burning trash is common, causing hazardous toxins to be exposed thereby threatening human and environmental health. Among the already few landfill sites that are present, even fewer are in operation. Even within Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, there are no permanent landfills to be found. The waste on the roads allows for an ideal environment for various flies to thrive which effects both human health and the health of the environment for other species. The poor solid waste management in Pakistan has caused numerous diseases and environmental problems to rise.

Waste Management Situation in Lahore

In Lahore, the capital of Punjab and the second largest city in Pakistan, there are currently no controlled waste disposal facilities are formal recycling systems, though roughly 27% of waste (by weight) is recycled through the informal sector, Lahore does not have very high performing governmental management in the waste management situation. Instead, the City District Government Lahore established the Lahore Waste Management Company and left the responsibility of the Solid Waste Management in Lahore to them. Beginning in 2011, Lahore Waste Management Company strives to develop a system of SWM that ensures productive collection, recovery, transportation, treatment and disposal of the waste in Lahore.

Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) has over 10,000 field workers involved in waste collection and disposal. Though the LWMC is working in phases, 100% collection rates are not seen yet. Lahore currently only has three disposal sites which are no more than dumps, where illegal dumping and trash burning is common. However, there is some resource recovery taking place. It is estimated that 27% of dry recyclables are informally recycled within the city. Additionally a compost plant converts 8% of waste into compost.

In general, the governance over the Waste Management in Lahore is hardly present. Though there are current projects and plans taking place, by the Lahore Waste Management Company for example, in order to achieve a productive and sustainable system in the city it is necessary for all service providers (formal, private, and informal) to take part in decisions and actions.

Current Activities and Projects

According to the United Nations Environment Program, there are six current activities and plans taking place towards an efficient Waste Management System. These current activities are as follows:

  • Solid Waste Management Guidelines (draft) prepared with the support of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan.
  • Converting waste agricultural biomass into energy/ material source – project by UNEP, IETC Japan.
  • North Sindh Urban Services Corporation Limited (NSUSC) – Assisting the district government in design and treatment of water supply, sanitation and solid waste management
  • The URBAN UNIT, Urban Sector Policy & Management Unit P & D Department, Punjab. Conducting different seminars on awareness of waste water, sanitation & solid waste management etc.
  • Lahore Compost (Pvt.) Ltd. only dealing with the organic waste with the cooperation of city district government Lahore, Pakistan. The company is registered as a CDM project with UNFCCC.
  • Different NGOs are involved at small scale for solid waste collection, and recycling.

Additionally, in November 2013 a German company, agreed to invest in the installation of a 100 megawatt power plant which generates energy from waste from Lahore. Progress is being made on the country’s first scientific waste disposal site in Lakhodair. With this in mind, the Lahore Waste Management Company considered other possible technologies for their Waste-to-Energy project. They opened up applications for international companies to hire as the official consultant for LWMC and their project. The results of the feasibility study results showed that the power plant has the potential to process 1035 tons of municipal waste daily, and generate 550 megawatt electricity daily.

The Way Forward

Although SWM policies do exist, the levels at which they are implemented and enforced lack as a result of the governmental institutions lacking resources and equipment. These institutions are primarily led by public sector workers and politicians who are not necessarily the most informed on waste management. For improvements in municipal solid waste management, it is necessary for experts to become involved and assist in the environmental governance.

Due to the multiple factors contributing to the solid waste accumulation, the problem has become so large it is beyond the capacity of municipalities. The former director of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Dr. Mirza Arshad Ali Beg, stated, “The highly mismanaged municipal solid waste disposal system in Pakistan cannot be attributed to the absence of an appropriate technology for disposal but to the fact that the system has a lot of responsibility but no authority.” Laws and enforcement need to be revised and implemented. The responsibility for future change is in the hands of both the government, and the citizens.

Waste practices in the Pakistan need to be improved. This can start with awareness to the public of the health and environment impacts that dumped and exposed waste causes. It is imperative for the greater public to become educated, have a change in attitude and take action.

References

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/08/solid-waste-pakistan-karachi-2014867512833362.html

http://www.iamcivilengineer.com/2014/04/solid-waste-disposal-and-collection.html

http://epd.punjab.gov.pk/solid_waste

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/08/solid-waste-pakistan-karachi-2014867512833362.html

http://www.unep.org/gpwm/InformationPlatform/CountryNeedsAssessmentAnalysis/Pakistan/tabid/106536/Default.aspx

http://www.iamcivilengineer.com/2014/04/solid-waste-disposal-and-collection.html

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264629066_An_assessment_of_the_current_municipal_solid_wastemanagement_system_in_Lahore_Pakistan

http://www.lwmc.com.pk/about-us.php

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264629066_An_assessment_of_the_current_municipal_solid_wastemanagement_system_in_Lahore_Pakistan

http://www.unep.org/ietc/Portals/136/Events/ISWM%20GPWM%20Asia%20Pacific%20Workshop/Pakistan_Presentation.pdf

http://www.dawn.com/news/1081689

http://www.lwmc.com.pk/waste-to-energy.php

http://www.unep.org/gpwm/InformationPlatform/CountryNeedsAssessmentAnalysis/Pakistan/tabid/106536/Default.aspx

http://thinkbrigade.org/asia/pakistan-waste-management/index.html