Waste to energy

23 04 2011

Keppel Seghers’ Shenzen WTE plant, to be completed this year, will be China’s largest and will treat 4,200 tonnes of waste per day. Photo: belgiumunlimitedchina.org

The Asia Pacific region is set to lead the global waste-to-energy market by the end of this year, according to new estimates by Pike Research released on Tuesday.

The industry is set to triple its revenue from $4.2 billion to almost 13.6 billion by 2016, while the Asian market will increase its sales by five fold in the same time frame, said Pike Research, a U.S. based company that provides analysis and market research on cleantech industries.

Pike Research president Clint Wheelock told Eco-Business that Asia Pacific countries, most notably China, are fast-growing markets for waste-to-energy (WTE) systems.

“In 2011, we expect that Asia Pacific will surpass Western Europe as the largest region for WTE investment and by 2016, WTE revenues in Asia will increase more than fivefold over 2010 levels,” said Mr Wheelock.


Rapidly urbanising regions are increasingly turning to WTE technology because it provides both a consistent source of renewable energy for energy-hungry cities and a solution to the ever-expanding quantities of municipal solid waste (MSW).

“Waste collected in cities contains a large amount of biological and renewable materials, and it is therefore an important source of renewable energy,” said Mr Wheelock.

“As a consequence, energy from waste contributes to energy security and diversification, and matches the growing demand for renewable energy in a carbon constrained world,” he added.

China, whose annual MSW generation is expected to grow from its current level of 150 million tonnes to 210 million tonnes by 2015, treats only 55 per cent of its MSW at present. Of that amount, 80 per cent is sent to landfills.

With China’s urban population predicted by the United Nations to reach one billion people by 2050, China has recognised the need for sound policies on MSW treatment. The government has responded by providing subsidies and corporate tax exemptions for WTE technology.

In 2009, China already had 70 WTE plants. Currently, more than 100 new plants are in the planning stages.

Pike Research predicts the Chinese thermal WTE technology market will grow from $875 million currently to $3.7 million in 2016. Over five years, the resulting accumulated revenue would be about $14.6 billion.

Source: Pike Research

The primary technology that most Asian countries use is thermal WTE. Thermal WTE refers to the use of heat, either through direct burning or other processes, to convert waste to electricity or heat energy. Traditional incineration burns waste as well, but energy is not necessarily captured from the process.

On-going concerns about WTE, primarily air pollution, have led to community resistance to new facilities. In February Beijing cancelled plans for a waste incineration power plant after years of protests from local residents claiming that the plant’s proximity to a local canal would pollute drinking water. Proposed WTE facilities in Delhi have faced similar opposition.

The newer, advanced technologies have reduced the environmental impacts considerably. These include plasma arc gasification, in which inert gas is superheated using electrical currents. The resulting heat breaks down solid waste without burning. The process produces clean –burning gases or fuels and small amounts of residual solids.

Other non-thermal technologies are emerging as well. Biological methods are being developed that break down waste into clean-burning gases and biofuels.

Japan, with a long tradition of waste incineration, has been taking advantage of advanced WTE technologies to meet tightened air quality regulations since 2000. Japan will add an estimated 20 new WTE plants a year in the coming seven years.

Singapore’s WTE market is driven by Keppel Seghers Group, a unit of Singapore-listed Keppel Corporation. In June of last year, in a public-private partnership with Singapore’s National Environment Agency, the company opened the country’s fourth WTE plant, which treats 800 tonnes of solid waste and generates more than 20 MW of electricity per day.

In 2004, Keppel Seghers partnered with Hong-Kong listed China Everybright  International  to strengthen its role as a market leader in China. It currently has 10 WTE facilities in China and is planning to expand to new cities.

“Our track record in providing solutions that can meet stringent international emission standards has helped to make Keppel Seghers a leading provider of imported WTE solutions in China,” said Tay Lim Heng, chief executive officer of Keppel Integrated Engineering, Keppel Seghers’ parent company.

“In 2010, we were awarded a project by a repeat customer to expand an existing WTE plant in Shenzhen, Guangdong, which when completed will be the largest in China,” he added.

In March, Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration announced a new policy under development to transform its 26 trash incineration plants into power stations. The waste will converted into biocharcoal which could in turn be used for power generation.

Also last month, Canadian fuel cell company Ballard Power Systems announced a new WTE pilot project in partnership with South Korean company GS Platech, a subsidiary of GS Caltex. The project will use WTE technology to produce hydrogen for a fuel cell generator using municipal solid waste.

WTE technologies provide opportunities for foreign direct investments and international technology sharing for Asia’s less industrialised countries.

In February the Japanese government offered financial backing to its companies bidding for Vietnam’s first private waste-treatment system to be located in Hanoi. Japanese companies Orix Corp and Nippon Koei Co are expected to bid for the project, which will convert waste to energy and fertiliser.

A new 250MW project owned by China’s Shenzhen Hanyuan Green Energy Resource Co, will produce carbon credits through the U.N.’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The project, announced on April 5th, will include five power plants fed by agricultural waste rather than municipal solid waste. The company is attempting to raise $100 million for the venture.

By issuing tradable carbon credits that companies in developed countries can use to offset their carbon emissions, CDM promotes investment in clean technologies in developing countries.

WTE technology providers such as Keppel Seghers say they provide key solutions to the challenges of urban waste management and the need for more renewable energy technology for Asia’s cities.

Keppel’s Mr Tay told Eco-Business, “Cities across Asia are actively pursuing far-reaching solutions in waste management as their environmental burdens escalate with rapid urbanisation. As they look for sustainable solutions, they see that reliable and proven WTE technology can provide effective waste management solutions, with energy recovery as an extra incentive.”

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