9 Nov 2007

Incinerator for Glos County?

Blog readers will know that an incinerator is poss for Javelin Park near Stonehouse (see blog on 24th Nov 2007) - I have written to the County Cabinet member Stan Waddington about this and he gave a comprehensive reply and noted that no decision has yet been taken.

Photos: Marchwood Incinerator, Hampshire - visited recently by Green party member and former Vision 21 Director Chris Harmer

Green District councillors locally met to discuss waste a wee while ago - I then had a meeting with Greens from all four Gloucestershire Green parties last week - we then had a Green party meeting on Wednesday night where we have agreed in principle a way forward on a few key points. All these meetings can be deeply frustrating but they are also empowering and allow us all to have a voice and a part to play in developing policy - we are also fortunate to have some very knowledgeable people some of whom work in the waste industry. Hopefully in very near future we will have developed a more detailed policy document but wanted to share where we have got to so far.

Anyhow following this I have sent a detailed email to Stan responding to all the points he raises....plus the Green party's key aims and my own personal thoughts (both aims and thoughts enclosed below) - indeed I have personally found the issue very challenging but am confident that we are now developing the framework for what is the most sustainable way forward.

Glos Greens remain strongly opposed to large mass burn incinerators but there is a discussion about the role that smaller ones could play as a disposal option at a residual waste level of 25-30% - the discussions on this have been very interesting and I can't say I ever thought I would be supporting an incinerator - still uncomfortable but the only realistic way forward is to have that as part of the solution - but as you will see there are very strict conditions about how much waste, about the energy it produces etc.

Many Councils are doing it completely wrong and building monster mass burn incinerators that are being built with crazy wasteful PFI contracts that require them to be fed waste for 28 years or more - the whole waste situation will have changed by then yet Councils are signing up....anyhow more of that madness another time - we mustn't let Gloucestershire go down that route.

Health fears????

One other fear around incinerators is the emissions...and I have to say that this area still causes me concerns - The 2002 DEFRA Study 'Review of Environmental and Health Effects of Waste Management' [endorsed by the NSCA] states : 'We found that dealing with municipal solid waste accounts for only about 1% of UK emissions of dioxins, shared approximately equally between incineration and emissions from burning landfill gas. This figure is of poor quality because of uncertainty over dioxin emissions from other sources. Domestic sources such as cooking and burning coal for heating are the UK’s single largest source of dioxins, accounting for about 18% of emissions. Transport accounts for about 3% and electricity generation about 4% of the UK total. A number of other sources contribute to emissions of dioxins to a similar or greater extent: accidental vehicle fires; fireworks and bonfires; small-scale waste burning (for example on building sites); incineration of other wastes; and the iron and steel industry.'

So - dioxins are a potential issue, but to be proportionate, we should also be seeking to ban domestic coal fires, barbeques, transportation, fossil-fuel energy generation, fireworks and the ferrous metal industry...One Green party member commentated: "From experience in discussing this with a Dutch EfW operator, when I asked the question 'do you have a problem with dioxins?', his reply was 'yes - we're struggling to find any to monitor'. This was from a plant that a local pressure group came to do a couple of days of independent stack monitoring at and went away not really having found much to write about. Hardly surprising, as their residence times, combustion temperatures and use of exhaust gas cleaning were exemplary - they design their plants backwards from the gas cleaning train out there, and they typically cost a third the cost of the whole plant."

Health is still an issue and we need to look carefully at sites and builds etc - I would be very interested in thoughts and further info from others on this issue and indeed any of this.....

Comments re County waste sent to Cllr Stan Waddington

****Please note these are in draft format****

Update: See Sept 2009 policy here:

Here are some further personal thoughts on this based on numerous discussions (with huge thanks to Adrian Jones for his considerable help and technical knowledge):

1. Waste reduction
While recognising the urgent need for our lifestyles to change, I acknowledge that we are likely to see only a small reduction in waste being produced in the near future. We do not accept forecasts that waste will continue to rise indefinitely: action by Government, business and others along with rising oil prices will all impact on the amounts of waste produced. However we accept that waste is likely to continue to increase in the short to medium term future without significant Government and local action.

Waste reduction is, nevertheless, still an area that needs significantly more attention as there are many routes that can be pursued. For example in the absence of actions by the government on packaging some Councils are having meetings with local supermarkets. In Germany a tax reduced packaging by 17%: we urgently need similar actions here. We accept that alot of this is beyond the ability of local and county councils to resolve, but we urge them to raise such issues with government through the Local Government Association and other means.

2. Reuse and recycling
Zero-waste is what we should be aiming for but we still need a quantum shift in behaviour to create it: zero-waste is currently unattainable in Europe on a large scale. We need to plan for 70% recycling - this is achievable - although clearly as oil becomes more expensive and new industries develop we should be able to achieve more in the future.

The worlds best recyclers, Flanders, currently hit 71% recycling on municipal wastes. They burn the rest, apart from the 1% that they landfill. There is much that I could write here about how 70% targets can be reached (...more of that in another blog when proposlas are more firmed up).

3. Residual wastes
The choice is, as you note, quite stark: energy recovery or landfill. Reuse and recycling are fine until you start bumping up against the law of diminishing returns - which suggest that the final residual (25-30%) always leaves you with the options of energy recovery or landfill. EfW is clearly better than landfill when you adopt any form of lifecycle assessment. It is however critical that the use of EfW is as limited, as efficient, as clean and as complementary to existing and proposed 'better' waste solutions as possible.

Economies of scale are a big issue in waste management and any single District-scale residual treatment would be prohibitively expensive - although equally we wouldn't advocate a single centralised solution serving the whole County, for various reasons including that you'd struggle to get a heat sink to fit it. Without a heat sink, you don't get the CHP, and then the efficiencies and environmental impacts become questionable. Easier to find a number of smaller heat-sinks than one large one. Perhaps aim for three or four smallish-scale facilities?

Based on the latest analysis re Glos MSW, there's about 340kt/pa total municipal waste produced in Gloucestershire? Assuming 70% recycling - our target figure - this leaves us with a residual of about 102kt/pa. Enough for one small centralised mass burn facility, or three small gasifiers. But we haven't accounted for C&I wastes in this figure. Assuming the 'MSW-like' C&I wastes are around 60% of the MSW figure - this is based on figures seen elsewhere and seem typical - then we've probably got about 165kt of residual material to play with in Gloucestershire. This is without considering construction and demolition wastes - the wood content in these waste streams - and any combustible C&I waste not otherwise accounted for and which can't easily be recycled.

There are encouraging developments on the horizon in relation to gasification and pyrolysis. The problem is that none of them are yet satisfactorily proven in a UK context on municipal wastes, although we are likely to see reference plants in the near future. These include, but aren't necessarily limited to :
- Plasco of Canada
- Solena of Spain
- Refgas of Flintshire

- Compact Power of Avonmouth

Gloucestershire could easily therefore sustain three or four gasifiers at the scale at which a number of the smaller providers seem to be coming in at the moment [One conceptual plant with a throughput of 30kt/pa is sized to fit in three shipping containers, so that gives you an idea of the footprint]. The interesting thing about small-scale pyrolysis/gasification is that it is very adaptive technology and can be used for more than just residual MSW. It can also be used as a hazardous waste treatment technology, and to treat clinical wastes [which is indeed what the Compact Power plant is currently being used for].

Quoted CAPEX costs are low - c.£8-10 million for c.35-50kt/pa. So a lot of promise, but not proven yet. The Compact Power MSW plant will be fairly typical of the technology - they all have their different patented innovations, but essentially you are heating a waste in the absence of oxygen [pyrolysis stage] to produce a degraded char and a syngas, which are then heated further in the presence of limited oxygen [this is the gasification stage] to produce a higher grade syngas which is cleaned and fed to an engine, from which the electricity is generated. Some of the syngas produced is burned within the process to generate the heat. The WID bit of it is the engine and the release from the gasifier, and both of these need to be in compliance. These plants tend to have a small footprint and stack height though. Gasification/pyrolysis is also likely to be able to be adapted for duty with biomass when/if in the future the supply of residual waste dries up.

RubbishCopyrighted photo reprinted here with permission of Seattle-based photographer Chris Jordan. See more photos.

In terms of mass burn EfW - I am less happy about these despite the concerns above re pyrolysis being not so well tested. If they are to be used for residual waste - and we must be talking only about the 25-30% residual here - then they must be with CHP with a suitable heat-sink - and the stringent conditions imposed by the Waste Incineration Directive. Mass burn EfW is possible if sized appropriately, fed with appropriate residuals and used in an industrial synergy. Particularly if it is also able to take biomass (and ideally clean waste biomass such as clean low-grade wood wastes etc - although we'd want to see most of this recycled where possible).

4. Comments re IVC
Despite fairly widespread support for in-vessel composting, the Gloucestershire Green Party have some concerns re the environmental impacts. If you compost segregated organic wastes, then you get a usable compost but at an energy cost (typically about 0.05 - 0.1MW per tonne - IVC uses some pretty hefty forced-air fans and other processing costs) - far better to run this material through an Anaerobic Digester and get the compost plus a liquid fertiliser plus carbon-neutral biogas to be burned to generate electricity, or to be cleaned and compressed for use as roadfuel. Your energy balances swing between 0.4 and 0.5MW per tonne the other way then, with a corresponding CO2 reduction [you're displacing fossil fuels too].

The IVC of a mixed green and kitchen waste stream at a remote location [such as is suggested by Glos CC] is worse than the IVC of kitchen waste only, which is far worse than using home composting for both options. (Although it should also be noted many need guidance on good home composting.)

Re IVC of mixed organic wastes such as come out of an Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) process. This does seem to be a poor solution as you can't really do anything with the output due to contamination issues - and it ends up as landfill cover anyway. The very best thing you can do with the output (known as 'Compost Like Output') is in low-grade brownfield land reclamation under exemption - which is effectively landfill by another name anyway. The environmental impacts mean that this approach [waste - MBT - remove recyclates - landfill the rest] isn't actually that much better than straight landfilling when you take the energy costs into account.

5. European Good Practice
An example of good practice is Denmark who have 29 incinerators for a population of around 5 million people. It had reached a 65% recycling target by 2004 and incinerated 26% of its combined non-inert wastes in this year. It only landfills 9%. 8 months of the year, the whole of Copenhagen takes its heat load from a number of these facilities, which are linked into a large ring surrounding the city. In the winter, they use a mixture of biomass and fossil fuel plants to provide the extra output.

The interesting thing about Denmark is that all of its EfW plants are CHP, and the vast majority of them are small - the smallest CHP facility they have is less than 10000 tonnes per annum. This would be small enough to serve the Forest of Dean, for example. This particular plant was installed to take local wastes from a remote rural area, and the CHP is used by a food factory - which would have closed without the available energy, with the loss of 80 jobs. EfW is quite popular in Denmark as a result of such linkages, as it has been specified in order to support the very communities that produce the waste in the first place. Heat only CHP from these plants can give efficiencies of over 80% - this is double the efficiency of a conventional coal fired power plant.

Here is a link which takes you to a publication by Denmarks largest energy from waste company. Here is a list of their work to date.

In comparison, we landfill around 68% of our waste in the UK at the moment. Of our 20 EfW plants, only four to the knowledge of the Green Party have any CHP. One of these is up in the Shetland Isles. It serves 800 local houses and 200 local businesses, and the average householder is between £500-700 per annum better off as a result of the lower costs and higher efficiency of the CHP system. The main local complaint has been that there is now no longer any capacity in the district heating scheme. It's a very small little facility, and is completely in keeping with its environment. (You wouldn't know it was there unless you really looked for it.) Shetland is now largely self-sufficient for waste disposal, and disposes of all of its non-hazardous wastes on the islands.


Anonymous said...

A big bad incinerator is on its way to Gloucestershire as they are too lazy to do anything else - recycling and reducing is too hard work for councillors to get their heads around!

Hey and why panic now? why hasn't this been sorted ages ago - we knew what was coming - incompetence by the County...

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was an amazing post, with so much useful information - thank you! I must admit, it makes my head spin a little, trying to work out the 'best solution'.

The challenge is that different people with different agendas (and budgets) will come up with different solutions and we never seem to agree with one another.

I too am concerned about the health benefits of incinerators; but at this stage it's a gut reaction rather than based on any knowledge. I guess I need to get reading.....