190  Conversion to energy

Energy from Waste (EfW) in the UK has usually meant Incineration.  This is an unpopular technique for 'treating' wastes prior to landfill.  15% of wastes received are 'bypass materials' which cannot be incinerated and are sent straight to landfill. Incineration can then reduce a substantial proportion of hazardous wastes.  This leaves 30% of concentrated, toxic bottom ash and 5% fly (chimney) ash for which a disposal route has to be found.  Most is still landfilled - so this still amounts to 50% of what was collected, but with the toxins more concentrated.

Other satisfactory and generally acceptable alternatives for this ash have yet to be devised, and some attempts have ended in spectacular failure, such as the 2000 tonnes (Environment Agency figures) of ash containing dioxins measuring thousands of times the EU safety limits, spread between 1993 and 1998 over five years on the paths of over 40 allotments in Byker, Newcastle. All ash deposits known to the Environment Agency in and around Newcastle have been removed by Newcastle City Council and disposed of to an appropriately licensed landfill site. This incinerator is no longer allowed to operate. 

Most incineration is either covered by European Directives (hazardous waste and municipal waste) or will be covered by a proposed Directive as and when it is passed and implemented into UK law. Most incinerators must be authorised under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.  The Directives must specify the conditions under which an incinerator must be operated, emission limits and monitoring.  But Directives cannot always protect against human failure (accidental or wilful).  Safe emission limits have frequently been exceeded at all UK incinerators, and serious mistakes including a number of unintentional fires have occurred in recent years.

Many scientists believe there are no 'safe' emission levels of dioxin, formed by burning chlorinated plastics and products such as batteries. Incineration with energy recovery is nevertheless placed higher in the government's waste hierarchy (Reduction, Recovery of materials, Recovery of energy, Disposal) than disposal via landfill.  At the top is waste minimisation through materials avoidance (this includes product design for durability, repair, reuse and recycling), followed by recovery, reuse and recycling. 

Modern incineration with energy recovery can displace fossil fuels that may otherwise be used to provide energy. But it is not an efficient or sustainable method of energy generation, and it also displaces energy from renewable sources, such as wind, solar, thermal, tidal and photovoltaics.  Not as much energy is produced as would be saved by recycling, and further energy can be conserved by manufacturing with recycled materials, so, ideally, it is desirable that extraction and processing of 'virgin' raw materials is greatly reduced, and that no recyclable waste should be incinerated. Also, incinerator contracts are necessarily long, and they need continuous feedstock.  This sits unhappily with the aim to increase reuse and recycling rates - successful recycling deprives a thirsty incinerator, and the tail should not wag the dog.

ROC's - UK's Renewables Obligation (RO) scheme 
The Government has introduced an incentive mechanism, the Renewables Obligation (RO), which results in a premium paid for renewable electricity generation.  Each renewable generator issues ROC's, which are sold to electricity supply companies so that they can meet their obligation for the proportion of supplied electricity generated from renewable sources.  The obligation increases annually in line with the Governmentís target for UK to generate 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010, increasing to 15% by 2015, and 20% by 2020. "Currently renewables represent around 3% of electricity generation so the targets will be very challenging to meet" (EPR website).  Renewable energy generation can include the use of various forms of biomass as fuel to produce or 'convert to' energy.

The use of wastes as substitute fuels in other processes, for example shredded tyres in cement production, can also reduce consumption of fossil fuels but, like incineration, is controversial. It may be a more efficient use of tyres to crumb them for incorporation in the material used for road-building.  Ferrous metals can be recovered by electromagnetic means from municipal waste incinerator ash, but the scrap is of a lower grade than if it were pre-sorted.  Research is taking place to establish if incinerator ash is suitable for recovery and use, to reduce the amount of residue to be landfilled - but incorporating it into building blocks is unlikely to win wide acclaim.   It may be possible to vitrify ash into a slag suitable for use in road construction, but who is calling for incineration in the first place?  Indeed, recycling must take place - the UK has one of the worst records in Europe. Clearly new incineration plants are not essential, and could quickly become redundant, causing a problem for councils with long contracts, as waste reduction and recycling are made easier for us and take a firmer hold in our way of life.

An independent report, confirmed in research by the British Newsprint Manufacturers Association, has shown recycling of used newspapers and magazines at Aylesford Newsprint to be environmentally much preferable to their incineration for energy recovery. Without plants such as Aylesford - and more facilities are needed to service other areas and reduce transportation - the pressure to obtain timber would have greater impact on now scarce old-growth forests, which provide wildlife habitat.

Recycling textiles can save up to 15 times the energy recoverable by incineration (British Textile Technology Group report for Evergreen Recycled Fashions, Dewsbury) and recycling of PET plastic can save up to 40 times the energy recoverable by incineration (Clark & New, Current UK Initiatives in Plastics Recycling).

Friends of the Earth believes a target should be set in the UK to recycle 50% per cent of materials by 2010. The establishment, promotion and demand of large new incineration plants would be likely both to prevent the achievement of this target, and to dissuade the public and businesses from taking responsibility for their waste. A recent US EPA report shows that recycling is a far better option than incineration as a greenhouse gas abatement strategy. Commercial conifer forestry uses pesticides, and acidifies soil and water. Natural forests, with their increased biodiversity and biomass, soak up more CO2. There is therefore a need to reduce overall demand on trees, which retain water, prevent erosion and fix carbon.

The recovery and recycling of a discarded resource can produce up to ten times the employment offered by an incinerator.  Hidden costs include incinerator pollutants which end in the food chain and contribute to the burden of toxins in humans and wildlife. Waste prevention, minimisation, recycling and energy efficiency are sustainable strategies; new incineration plants, with the subsidies they receive, and the recyclable materials they are currently likely to attract, are harder to justify.  The 15 main incineration facilities in the UK range in capacity from 30,000 tonnes in Shetland to 400,000 tonnes.  Some say this is enough. Yet currently another 23 are planned. Given a culture increasingly emphasising sustainable practices, businesses can play a major part in reducing the waste currently going to landfill or incineration.

Recent direct actions by Greenpeace have temporarily closed incinerators in Sheffield, Edmonton (North London) and Deptford (South London).  On its website, Greenpeace lists the currently operating and proposed incinerators in the UK. An entertaining and educational few minutes can be spent doing their incinerator tour at www.greenpeace.org.uk/incineratortour.htm

Power from methane
Energy is fed into the national grid from power stations capturing methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) emitted from landfill sites, where they are big enough to make it commercially viable, such as that at Brogborough, Bedfordshire. Unfortunately all waste reaching Brogborough arrives by the least sustainable option - road, rather than rail.  Waste does reach some landfills by rail, however, and this should be encouraged, as landfill will be needed for some years yet, in the time it takes for waste to become seen as a resource, and reducing and recycling increases. 

The government has set a target date for a considerable reduction in the organic waste going to landfill.  Other ways of converting waste to energy will have an increasing part to play, such as anaerobic digestion (processing without oxygen) for organic waste, and trials have proved successful.  Some players hope to introduce pyrolysis or gasification plants.  These would only be likely to meet public acceptability standards if they operated in a total vacuum with no emissions to the air, but as with incineration, they would be likely to swallow resources that could otherwise be reused or recycled.  The industry may be right to state that technologies are evolving, and this space should be watched.  However, the fact remains that nearly everything used by household or industry can already be reused or converted for reuse, without being burnt or chemically altered, given the political will.

Also see
Food waste (12)
Used vegetable oils and fats
Wood Burning
Rubber and tyres (47)
Energy use and climate change (450)

Associated Energy Products plc

Tel 0207 823 2288 London / 01784 465880 Staines Fax 0207 823 2844 / 01784 496332
55-60 London Road, STAINES, Middx TW18 4BQ

Development of integrated solid waste treatment processes and recycling schemes, technologies to generate energy from waste and other power generation projects. Provision of finance planning and public relations support. ESA member. Offices at 14 Headfort Place, Victoria, London SW1X 7DH.

Biffa Environmental Technology
Tel 01254 831389
Withnell Service Centre, Bolton Road, Withnell, CHORLEY, Lancs PR6 8BT
E-Mail marketing@biffa.co.uk Website www.biffa.co.uk

Offers landfill gas control service: gas production modelling, design of systems, purchase of equipment, installation, maintenance, monitoring, and emergency response unit.

Biogas Technology Ltd

Tel 01487 831 701 Fax 01487 830 962
6 Brookside Industrial Estate, Glatton Road, Sawtry, HUNTINGDON, Cambs PE17 5SB

Landfill gas management and power generation including pumping trials and site assessment; provision of gas extraction and flare systems; power generation plant including complete power stations; leachate control and treatment; site monitoring and aftercare. An associate company, Natural Power Ltd, is also able to provide funding of power station construction and take on operational responsibility. Recent projects are a 2.6MW station (sufficient for 2600 homes at Harnhill, near Bristol (complete) and similar schemes under construction near Telford and York. ESA member.

Communities Against Toxics
Tel 0151 339 5473 Fax 0151 201 6780 
E-mail ralph@tcpublications,freeserve,co.uk
PO Box 29, ELLESMERE PORT, Cheshire L66 3TX

Nationwide organisation of local groups promoting clean methods in industry. Supplies waste disposal information concerning toxic, clinical and municipal waste, and facts about health and environmental concerns. Bi-monthly newsletter. (Updated May 2001)

Energy Technology Support Unit (ETSU)
Web Site http://www.etsu.com
Tel 01235 433517 Fax 01235 432923
Building 156, Harwell Laboratory, DIDCOT, Oxon OX11 0RA

Government sponsored body managing and promoting research, development and demonstration programmes in energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean coal technology. Expertise on energy technology including biofuels, landfill gas, CHP, geothermal and hydro power, passive solar design, tidal, wave and windpower. The associated Renewable Energy Enquiries Bureau provides a range of free educational publications (including a set of infosheets by the International Energy Agency aimed at a non-specialist audience, on waste management options for municipal wastes, lifecycle assessment and related topics) and summaries of completed research. Publishes a free general interest quarterly journal 'RE View'.

EPR (Energy Power Resources) Limited

Tel 020 7451 3500 Fax 0207 451 3555
Email enquiries@eprfs.com  Website www.eprl.co.uk 
Kinnaird House, 1 Pall Mall East, London SW1Y 5AU

Renewable energy supplier claiming one of the largest and most diverse portfolios of plant in UK.  Generated over 10% of UK's Renewables Obligation electricity 2003/04.  Founded 1997, and grown rapidly to become UK's leading renewable energy generator.  Acquired Fibrowatt Group 2002 (group experience dates back to early 1990ís).  Owns and operates five large biomass fuelled generators, plus others.  Plants at:  Ely (straw burning); Thetford, Eye, Westfield, Glanford (poultry litter burning); two windpower plants at Ovenden Moor and Royd Moor (Yorkshire Windpower); and a 100kW capacity run-of-river hydro scheme at Padarn (Padarn Power Company - currently awaiting refurbishment).  Eye (see Fibropower below) was world's first fuelled by poultry litter;  Fife was first to use fluidised bed combustion for burning a similar fuel; and Ely is world's largest fuelled by waste straw.  Economically procures these various fuels and commercially manages associated supply chains.  Also owns Anglian Straw (see above), a wholly owned subsidiary of EPR Ely Power Limited, formed to procure fuel supplies for Ely power station.  All EPR electrical generation is eligible for ROC's either directly or via NFFO contracts.  The Government's Renewables Obligation (RO) incentive mechanism results in premiums for renewable electricity generation:  each renewable generator issues ROC's, sold to electricity supply companies so they can meet their obligation for supplying electricity from renewable sources (see editorial introduction at top of page).  EPR claims a vital contribution (in a rapidly developing market) to UK effort to combat global warming and climate change.  Since March 2005 EPR has been owned by Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund (MEIF) Renewable Energy Limited.  (Updated August 2005)

Tel 01379 871100  Fax 01379 871376
Website www.fibropower.com or www.eprl.co.uk/assets/eye/overview.html 
Eye Power Station, Oaksmere Business Park, EYE, Suffolk IP23 7DH

The world's first poultry litter fuelled power generating plant, producing 12.7MW (commissioned 1992).  Consumes 160,000 tonnes p.a. of chicken litter from many farms in the region, as well as clean, dry forest residues, and vegetable-based biomass, eg food waste, grains.  Takes 7% of its fuel input in the form of feathers, a 'gate fee fuel' (trials under way to increase feather burn to 20%); and about 12% from other agricultural residues such as animal bedding that also carry a gate fee.  In April 2004  planning permission for Eye was extended to allow a wide range of biomass fuels to be burned, giving greater flexibility.  High quality fertilizer is also produced at the plant, marketed through an EPR group subsidiary, Fibrophos, to which ash is sold (a non-energy output).  Its power output qualifies for ROC payments.  Sale of output energy comprises a bundled contract for Energy, ROCs, LECs and embedded benefits.  Subsidiary of EPR (Energy Power Resources) Ltd (see above), which carries out operation and maintenance - EPR, Kinnaird House, 1 Pall Mall East, London SW1Y 5AU, Tel 020 7451 3500, Fax 0207 451 3555.    (Updated August 2005)

Greenfinch Ltd
Tel / Fax 01584 877687
biogas@greenfinch.co.uk Website www.greenfinch.co.uk 
The Business Park, Coder Road, LUDLOW, Shropshire SY8 1XE
Contact  Michael Chesshire

Anaerobic (no air) digestion plant engaged in 18 month pilot project begun in Oct 1999 on a plot only 0.015 hectare.  4.6 tonnes per week of putrescible kitchen waste that would otherwise go to landfill, including meat and bone, is collected (on the same day as refuse is collected in black sacks) from 1100 local  households, who are provided with white sacks.  This is manually loaded into the plant once a day.  The anaerobic biowaste digester (temperature 35 degrees) is fed hourly.  It conditions this biowaste into a soup, producing biogas which keeps the process hot and heats a greenhouse.  Organic compost/fertiliser is also produced. As the process is a closed system, it is odour-free, no vermin are attracted, and no planning problems were experienced, despite it being near a nursery and a river.  It is a sustainable, benign process.  If extended to 10,000 households (needing only 0.1ha) it is claimed that it could become a commercial venture, with price and capacity vastly more favourable than incineration.  (Updated Oct 2004)

London Waste Ltd

Tel 0208 803 1322 Fax 0208 884 0537
Energy from Waste Plant, Advent Way, LONDON N18 3AG

Municipal waste to energy incineration plant, recently upgraded to comply with new emission standards. Serves seven London boroughs and numerous commercial customers. Several recycling schemes also undertaken, including green waste composting, building blocks and paving manufactured from bottom ash, and sale of wood waste for charcoal production.

Motherwell Bridge Envirotec Ltd

Tel 01698 242 600 Fax 01698 242 609
PO Box 4, Logans Road, MOTHERWELL, Scotland ML1 3NP

Consulting, design, engineering and construction of composing, recycling, incineration and co-design facilities worldwide. Specialists in bio-gas utilisation schemes, contaminated land remediation.

Onyx Environmental Group plc
Tel 0208 983 1000  Fax 0208 983 0100  24 hour hotline 0800 626274
E-Mail info@onyxgroup.co.uk Website www.onyxgroup.co.uk   
Onyx House, 401 Mile End Road, LONDON E3 4PB  

Integrated waste management company owned by French company Vivendi.  40 sites throughout Britain including St Albans (2), Colchester and Gerrards Cross, Bucks.  Collection, disposal and treatment of all types of solid and liquid waste including asbestos, PCBs, sewage sludge, special wastes and tyres. Operates landfills; oil and solvent recovery and aqueous organic waste treatment plants; high pressure jetting; drain, sewage and tank cleaning; chemical decontamination; hazardous and clinical waste incineration or treatment (one of two major companies promoting incineration in the UK); tyre crumbing; 24 hour emergency service for chemical explosion or spillage; land decontamination and reclamation.  ESA member.  (Updated Mar 2002)

Shanks & McEwan (SWS) Ltd
Tel 01908 650650 Fax 01908 650699
Head Office, Dunedin House, Mount Farm, Auckland Park, MILTON KEYNES MK1 1BH
Email: info@shanks-recycling.co.uk

Major national waste management group, operating large landfill gas waste to energy schemes, including Brogborough, Beds. Other activities include collection, road and rail haulage, disposal of special and difficult waste, high temperature incineration of hazardous organic chemicals, disposal of domestic, commercial and industrial wastes, recycling, composting and operation of MRFs and transfer stations. ESA member.

SITA Tyre Recycling (UK) Ltd

Tel 01902 408608  Fax 01902 664995
Elm Energy House, Ettingshall Rd, WOLVERHAMPTON, Bilston, West Mids WV2 2 LA

French owned tyre burning plant, taking up to 10,000 scrap tyres a year, and supplying electricity to Powergen.  Steel wire and zinc recovered.

Todaysure Projects Ltd

Tel 0161 929 7172 Fax 0161 929 6210
154 Oldfield Road, ALTRINCHAM, Cheshire WA14 4BJ

Markets woodburning combustion units, for woodwaste, pallets, chipboard, MDF, skip debris, woodchips, dust, cardboard and paper, producing hot air and hot water. Capacity from 1 to 120 tonnes per week.

White Rose Environmental

Tel 0113 248 9062 Fax 0113 248 4445
Knostrop Treatment Works, Knowsthorpe Lane, LEEDS LS9 0PJ

The Uk's leading clinical waste incineration plant operator, White Rose is the clinical waste arm of Yorkshire Environmental, a subsidiary of Yorkshire Water. Plants in the south are at King's College Hospital, London; Goodmayes Hospital, Romford (these two, operated by Clinical Waste Ltd, having been acquired in 1997); Sidcup, Kent; Ashford; Ipswich; and Bournemouth. Others are at Leeds (2); Pontefract; Oldham; Bolton. One is under construction at Nottingham.

Yorkshire Water Services Ltd
Tel 0113 234 3234 Fax 0113 234 2322
2 The Embankment, Sovereign Street, LEEDS LS1 4BG

Major partner in a £28m project to construct a wood-fuelled power plant at Eggborough near Selby, North Yorks. Gasification of woodchips from forest residues and short rotation coppice will fuel turbines generating 10Mw of electricity, of which 8Mw will be exported to the local grid. Forest Enterprise, the Forestry Commission's commercial arm, will supply wood chips, but an increasing proportion of fuel will come from fields of short rotation willow coppice planted by local farmers on low grade land as both a habitat for game and songbirds, and an outlet for disposal of sewage sludge produced by the company.