Aberdeen Heat and Power's Michael King says Aberdeen’s low-cost district heating scheme could ‘snowball’

A pioneering low-cost heating scheme in Aberdeen is predicting that its growth will “snowball” in the next few years.

© DC ThomsonThe four Seaton high rises, Seaton, Aberdeen.
The four Seaton high rises, Seaton, Aberdeen.

Scottish Government pledges £62 million to help Aberdeen take the hydrogen route to Net Zero

The Scottish Government has announced a £62 million fund to help the energy sector recover from the dual economic impacts of coronavirus  and the oil and gas price crash. The fund, to be spent over the next five years, will help businesses in Scotland’s north east diversify out of the oil, gas and energy sectors and help attract private sector investment in the region.

Announcing the fund the Scottish Government said the region had an ambition to become a world leader in the transition to Net Zero.

The funding package will help position the region as a ‘hydrogen model’, with early funding for projects including: Acorn CCS & Acorn Hydrogen; Aberdeen Vision; and the Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub. Acorn Hydrogen, located at the St. Fergus gas terminal, seeks to produce hydrogen from natural gas and the linked Acorn CCS project would capture and store the CO2 safely in North Sea reservoirs. The Aberdeen Hydrogen Hub aims to use green hydrogen in the transport sector.

Other projects to be considered for support include:

  • A Global Underwater Hub in Aberdeen focused on helping the subsea and underwater sector grow with a focus on diversification and export support.
  • A new Energy Transition Zone business park adjacent to the Aberdeen South Harbour.
  • A range of innovation projects led by Oil and Gas Technology Centre’s Net Zero Solution Centre.

The Scottish Government will also work with the UK Government and industry to ensure funding supports an Oil and Gas Sector Deal.

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This package of investment for the North East will support our energy sector as it recovers from the impact of Covid-19 and will help us make significant progress as we move towards net zero by 2045.

“Aberdeen is recognised globally as a centre of excellence in oil and gas and this funding will help ensure that the knowledge, skills and expertise it has to offer will play a vital role in the energy transition.

World’s largest liquid air battery receives £10m from BEIS

Image: Carlton Highview Power.

Image: Carlton Highview Power.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced a £10 million grant to help construct the world's largest liquid air battery.

Carlton Highview Storage – a joint venture between UK independent power station developer Carlton Power and long duration energy storage firm Highview Power Storage – will build the 50MW/250MWh CRYOBattery in Trafford, in the Greater Manchester area.

It will be the world’s first commercial liquid air storage system, and will provide long duration storage for the National Grid. The system will be able to power around 200,000 homes for 5 hours a day.

The system cools and compresses air so that it becomes liquid and can be stored in industrial containers. This can then be fed through a turbine to turn it and generate electricity when needed. It will work together with a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) plant, capable of providing the electricity needed to drive the process.

Keith Clarke, chief executive of Carlton Power said the company looked at a number of different technologies for utility-scale, long-duration storage before selecting Highview’s liquid air energy storage, “because it is scalable, clean, can deliver the grid services we need, and can be deployed now".

“We were also keen to work with Highview Power to explore the opportunity to deploy the CRYOBattery in tandem with a gas-fired power plant that we have permitted to be built on the Trafford Energy Park. This type of “hybrid CCGT” would be an important tool to enable the UK to reach net zero”.

In time, the CCGT element could be adapted to run off of zero carbon hydrogen fuels or retrofitted to include carbon capture and storage technologies, to facilitate the move to net zero.

The CRYOBattery site, within the Trafford Energy Park, 8 miles south of Manchester – the largest such site in Europe – will provide grid services that will allow greater integration of renewables, and help stabilise the grid and avoid blackouts.

It’s income will come from arbitrage, grid balancing, the capacity market and ancillary services, according to Carlton Highview Storage.

Energy and Clean Growth minister Kwasi Kwarteng welcomed the project today, saying: “This revolutionary new CRYObattery facility will form a key part of our push towards net zero, bringing greater flexibility to Britain’s electricity grid and creating green collar jobs in Greater Manchester.

“Projects like these will help us realise the full value of our world-class renewables, ensuring homes and businesses can still be powered by green energy, even when the sun is not shining and the wind not blowing.”

Highview has been targeting a liquid air storage site in the UK for a number of years now, with a demonstrator first kicking off in 2015. Two years ago, the company took a step forward with the unveiling of a 5MW/15MWh plant together with Viridor.

It first announced plans for a 250MWh CRYObattery in the UK in October 2019.

Javier Cavada, president and CEO of Highview Power added: “We are excited to team up with Carlton Power for our first large-scale commercial UK project. They have an impressive track record of deploying grid-scale energy projects in the UK and their commitment to developing multiple projects with us speaks volumes about their confidence in our technology.

“We are on a fast-track to develop our cryogenic energy storage systems around the globe and this partnership will help accelerate momentum in the European markets.”

Carlton Highview Storage have plans to develop a further four CRYOBattery projects across the UK, amounting to over 1GWh of storage.

Construction of the Trafford site will begin later this year, with it expected to be operational by 2022.

Petrofac to Support UK Carbon Capture Project

Petrofac’s Engineering and Production Services business recently won an Engineering and Project Management Office support contract for the Acorn project, according to a company statement.

EPS will provide project management systems and technical support during the Front End Engineering Design for Acorn Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), and the Concept Select for Acorn Hydrogen. Both are part of the developments underway at the St Fergus gas terminal near Peterhead, Aberdeenshire.

Acorn CCS holds the first UK CO2 appraisal and storage license to be awarded by the Oil and Gas Authority. Through the Acorn Hydrogen project, North Sea natural gas would be reformed into clean hydrogen, with the CO2 emissions mitigated through the Acorn CCS infrastructure.

“The Acorn project represents an exciting shift in the North East’s energy dynamic and an important catalyst for sustainable energy growth generally,” said John Pearson, EPS Chief Operating Officer, and Petrofac’s global Corporate Development Officer.

“Like our existing wind portfolio, CCS and hydrogen require the sophisticated engineering and project management skills that we have developed in oil and gas. We are delighted to have the opportunity to deploy this expertise, alongside our proven systems and technologies, in support of Pale Blue Dot Energy and its landmark project.”

Ian Phillips, Acorn Project Director said: “Pale Blue Dot is pleased to be in a position to appoint Petrofac – a partner with much of its history rooted in Aberdeenshire – to support the next critical phase of the Acorn project. Petrofac’s appointment represents another key milestone for Acorn, which is on track to establish critical low carbon energy and CCS infrastructure in the mid-2020s.”

To contact the author, email bertie.taylor@rigzone.com.

Digitising agriculture – making supply chains more efficient


Michael Dean

Founding Partner, Agfunder

We were delighted that Michael agreed to be part of this first edition of Clima to share his wide experiences and knowledge of the agrifood markets, offer insights into the impact of COVID-19 and help to explore the challenges facing a global supply chain.

Q) Is a global food supply chain going to become a thing of the past? Do you see new supply chain models emerging?

No, I don’t think it will ever completely disappear and countries are always going to be reliant on one another for produce that can’t be grown locally, whether for climatic or economic reasons. But we are certainly going to see far more localisation of supply chains moving forward.  As COVID-19 has demonstrated, if the time comes where countries are forced to close borders to protect the food security of their own citizens, the need to achieve even basic levels of sustainable food production becomes paramount. We are going to see a wave of new technologies and localised supply chains emerging for at least the production and supply of nutrient-dense vegetables, fish and alternative proteins.

"We are certainly going to see far more localisation of supply chains moving forward."

Q) Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your view of this?

Yes, definitely. We were already moving towards more localised production and a recognition that we need to find different ways to feed our cities that are sustainable in both production levels and environmentally. But we must also ensure that in times of crisis that our supply chains remain open and are flexible enough to divert to new channels so we do not see the appalling waste, for example, with millions of litres of milk poured into drains and vegetable farmers ploughing in their fields because there is no market for the produce.

Q) What do you consider to be the fundamental elements of food supply that cannot be forsaken in any circumstances?

Efficient, equitable and sustainable production and supply of fresh food. Clearly that’s not happening in many countries where there are enormous production and supply chain inefficiencies and inequities hampering smallholder farmers and threatening millions with famine.

Q) How can agritech play its part in supporting the supply chain ecosystem?

Digitisation will be the key driver of supply chain efficiency. Artificial Intelligence informed by data collected from sensors throughout the supply chain will provide visibility into real-time production and demand levels so that any imbalances can be predicted or more effectively dealt with.  AI models will be able to predict these imbalances so that production, transport and distribution can be adjusted in response.  Automation and robotics are also going to play an increasingly major role in our future food system.

"Digitisation will be the key driver of supply chain efficiency."

Q) Do we need to see greater collaboration between more traditional farming communities and technology or scientific communities and organisations?

I think there is already a lot of collaboration or interaction going on between those two groups. The fundamental point of new technology development is to solve a real pain point for farmers, so in my experience, the best researchers spend a lot of time understanding their target markets and the problems they face.

Q) What would you highlight as the key limitations within the expanding agritech market that need to be overcome as we move forward? Are there also opportunities here?

Investment is a big one. Whilst investment levels in agritech continue to rise, the amount of capital being invested in technology for the global food system falls far short of its relative importance.

"The amount of capital being invested in technology for the global food system falls far short of its relative importance."

Q) How can indoor growing, and vertical farming specifically, bring solutions to local supply chains?

I see locally grown fresh vegetables and seafood as a fundamental component of our “smart cities” of the future. Compact, high-yielding indoor circular systems will be the norm. Similarly, large scale fermentation technologies to produce clean, high-quality alternative proteins are inevitable. Climate change is forcing us to adopt sustainable, energy-efficient controlled environment production systems that are able to preserve water and virtually eliminate environmental impact.


Michael Dean

Founding Partner, Agfunder

Michael has over 25 years’ experience in food and agriculture, venture capital, environmental sustainability, social impact and law. He is a recognised authority on agrifood technology and investing in its development. A seasoned investor and agriculture operator, prior to starting AgFunder, Michael was a founding partner of SeedRock Capital Partners and SeedRock Africa Agriculture, a social impact investment agribusiness based in West Africa.

Agfunder is one of the three US investors who participated in the IGS Series A funding completed in 2019.

'Revolutionary' £31m project to integrate heat, transport and energy in VPP

Image: Moixa.

Image: Moixa.

A £31 million demonstrator project integrating heat, transport and energy is to progress despite COVID-19 restrictions.

The SmartHubs Smart Local Energy Systems (SLES) project in West Sussex is looking to integrate the decarbonisation of heat, transport and energy across social housing, infrastructure and private and residential commercial properties.

Up to 350 smart solar panel and battery systems provided by Moixa are to be aggregated into a virtual power plant (VPP).

Moixa's GridShare software will run the VPP, aggregating and managing the "large fleet of hybrid systems" across transport, heat and power that form part of the project to deliver flexibility services into the ancillary markets

The project itself is being run by a consortium led by energy storage firm Connected Energy, which is to install a 12MW/14.4MWh front-of-the-meter battery energy storage system in Sompting, as well as nine 300kW behind-the-meter battery systems across West Sussex.

Five EV charging hubs are to be installed with integrated solar PV and battery energy storage, utilising over 1,000 second-life EV batteries to add grid balancing, load management and resilience services to the project.

It brings together a variety of companies, including PassivSystems which will deploy 250 air source heat pumps. These will have smart controls, with learning algorithms analysing multiple data points within the homes to learn their thermal properties.

Weather information and user behaviour will then be overlaid to predict user demand, which is then used to "optimise the efficiency of the heating system" as well as enable aggregation to respond to demand side response opportunities.

Also for heating, interseasonal heat transfer firm ICAX is to provide what it describes as sustainable heating sourced from recycled heat using a marine source heat pump. This will transfer heat from the sea water in Shoreham Harbour to heat adjacent buildings of the Shoreham Port Authority using a district heating system.

For transport, up to 250 EV charging points are to be installed and ITM Power will provide zero carbon hydrogen gas, investigating the feasibility of integrating electrolyser based hydrogen refuelling systems into a localised energy system.

Data analysis and system modelling will be provided by Newcastle University. Data modelling, systems design and “detailed planning” are all moving ahead despite what the consortium describes as “virus restrictions”. Plans are in place to safely ramp up implementation when lockdown restrictions ease.

West Sussex County Council is also in the consortium and is set to support the deployment of the assets in the project alongside Adur and Worthing Council.

“Bringing together innovative technologies and integrating them on this scale is an exciting proposition and one we are keen to see replicated up and down the country to help manage the climate emergency we’re facing," Matthew Lumsden, Connected Energy CEO and chair of the SmartHubs Steering Committee, said.

SLES is part-funded through UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) ‘Prospering from the Energy Revolution challenge’.

Rob Saunders, challenge director for Prospering From the Energy Revolution at UKRI, said: "The SmartHubs demonstrator has shown a revolutionary approach in combining expertise and innovation across energy generation, storage and usage with game-changing technologies combined into a cleaner, more flexible system that is fit for the future."

`The valuable role of waste-to-energy in the energy transition

An interview with Apricum’s waste-to-energy expert Thomas Obermeier

Apricum Senior Advisor Thomas ObermeierApricum has recently expanded its industry focus to include the waste sector, offering services in wastewater treatment, waste-to-energy and waste management. Supporting Apricum in its expansion into waste-to-energy projects are two newly appointed senior advisors, Thomas Obermeier and Henning Franke. In this interview, we speak to Thomas Obermeier to find out more about the waste-to-energy market in Germany and Europe and how the market might develop from a regulatory standpoint, as well as challenges and opportunities created.

1. Mr. Obermeier, where do you see the German waste incineration market going in the next few years, as it seems to be quite saturated and relies on waste imports from neighbouring countries? Which stake does waste-to-energy have within waste incineration?

Before the Corona pandemic, which is severely impacting the amount of waste being created, all of Germany’s wte (waste-to-energy) plants were operating at their maximum capacity of roughly 26 million tonnes per year. Even though general garbage or municipal solid waste (MSW) is actually rising during Corona, the commercial & industrial (C&I) waste is declining sharply. The GDP is expected to decline by 7–8 % this year and if we do not see a new lockdown, will likely not increase by more than 5% next year. Therefore, you can expect that we will not see an undercapacity in Germany this year or next year. Nevertheless, in the medium term, a further increase in GDP and therefore C&I waste can also be expected. To stimulate the economy, the government will promote infrastructure projects, which will result in increased construction and demolition waste. The trend of urbanization and smaller households will continue and the population in Germany is unlikely to decrease as early as predicted five years ago. This will result in an increase of MSW. But a higher gross amount of waste does not automatically mean there is more waste to be incinerated. The EU regulations, the green deal, and the German circular economy law (KrWg) all promote recycling. Today, the recycling rate for LAWC (local authority waste collection) in Germany stands at 50%, which is below the new calculation method of the EU and not over 65% as was announced in the past. We expect that a minimum rate of 60% in the next five years can be achieved. The C&I ordinance wants to increase separate collection and recycling as well. Looking only at these numbers, you could conclude that we will have an overcapacity in the coming years. But we must look at the whole picture. We incinerate more than 3 million tonnes per year of waste in coal power plants, which will disappear under the energy transition. A huge number of biomass power plants (incinerating waste wood and non-recyclable wood) that rely on renewable energy funding (advanced renewable tariffs) will close due to lack of economic viability once this subsidy is phased out. Waste wood and parts of bulky waste will need a new recovery home. Currently more than 3 million tonnes per year of MSW are treated in mechanical biological treatment facilities (MBT). These plants, mostly under the ownership of public authorities, are at the end of their lifetime and the main product RDF (refuse derived fuel) will hardly find an economically feasible home in wte plants. New waste streams like shredder light fraction and some hazardous waste have been coming into the market for two years.  To sum it up, it is safe to assume you will not find a wte overcapacity in Germany, mainly driven by the closure of biomass incinerators and coal power plants, and even if you take into account the known projects of 1 million tonnes per year, there will be an undercapacity if you calculate the social and economic factors as well.

2. How about the European market more broadly?

If you look at the EU market, only a few countries like Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Germany have a more or less saturated wte market. Even if EU targets for recycling and landfill are met, there is still a significant gap between installed capacity of waste incineration and actual requirements. For example, all 27 EU countries plus the UK produce roughly 595 million tonnes of waste per year. If we assume they will meet the EU’s circular economy goal of recycling 65% of MSW, with a maximum of 10% going into landfills, then 150 million tonnes per year would have to be incinerated. Currently we have an installed capacity in Europe of 90 million tonnes, 10 million tonnes are co-incinerated in cement kilns and coal power plants and 8–10 million tonnes will be handled by planned new projects. This leaves, therefore, a gap of more than 40 million tonnes. Even in highly developed countries like France, Italy, Spain, Poland or the UK, a lot of waste still goes to landfill. The highest demand is in Italy with 11 million tonnes per year followed by Spain with 8 million tonnes, France and Poland with 4 million tonnes, Romania with 3 million tonnes and Greece with 2 million tonnes. At least four other countries do have a gap of roughly 1 million tonnes per year. Britain is actually the wte market with the highest activity. We expect the same in Poland and in Spain. The EU does not fund wte projects anymore, and the financing of these projects is the main method to develop this cornerstone technology for the circular economy. To achieve private sector financing, you need a waste market assessment, long term waste supply agreements, waste laws and ordinances in accordance with EU regulation and the green deal, power purchase agreements and clients for heat, industrial steam or cooling nearby.

3. Regarding European policymakers, what is your opinion on how their potential resolutions will affect the development of waste-to-energy?

The problem is that many politicians, especially at the EU level, are dreaming of a zero waste society. Unfortunately, this is simply not realistic, and does not take into account the laws of science and nature and the well proven fact that not everything can be recycled. For example, plastic and paper fibre lose their recyclability after 4–7 recycling rounds. Wte also destroys organic hazards and concentrates the inorganic hazards in flue gas residues, which can then be stored safely underground. Despite all this, wte for many of these politicians is simply a transition technology. The NGOs are more active in influencing the MPs and EU bureaucrats than the wte stakeholders. It is important to point out, that after the midterm closure of nuclear, coal and even gas power plants, biomass and waste incinerators will be the only base load power plants remaining. Their decentralized places of location is a chance to improve the energy transition of heat supply as well as of the green hydrogen supply for industry and the automotive sector. Nevertheless, the main elements found in IBA (incineration bottom ash) like copper, aluminium, stainless steel, ferrous scrap or agglomerates are much cleaner than alternative secondary resources produced by mechanical recycling facilities. To promote wte, we have to highlight the importance of preventing waste, reusing waste products and recycling as much as possible. There are, of course, technical and market barriers to consider and therefore wte capacity should be installed at around 30% of the gross waste amount (MSW + C&I). Wte helps to drive the energy supply of power and heat while recycling metals and aggregates at the same time.

Waste Incineration: A friend or a foe to the Circular Economy as a way forward for Covid-19

Waste Incineration:

A friend or a foe to the Circular Economy as a way forward for Covid-19

This is a blog post by Chuma Makasi and Dr. Abeer Hassan (University of West of Scotland) about the potential that Energy from Waste facilities have in improving biodiversity and carbon emissions.

It is well established now that Covid-19 is very strongly linked to the loss of biodiversity that is caused by both businesses and individual human activity. In this short article, we introduce Energy from Waste (EfW) as a process of generating energy in the form of electricity and/or heat from the incineration of waste (Stringfellow, 2014). It could be termed ‘Renewable’ in the sense that waste is always in a constant process of replenishment from human activity. We are suggesting here that EfW is a useful tool in reducing/eliminating the biodiversity loss created by businesses and humans.

At the core of most of the processes that turn waste to energy lies the waste incinerator, which is the main driving force that produces energy from the waste in EfW plants. We believe that EfW is an important component in implementing the Circular Economy.

A Circular Economy is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources, this is the simplest definition according to Wikipedia. Because waste elimination is at the core of its objective, waste incineration must be considered as a means of harnessing resources in a Circular Economy.

Attitudes toward waste incineration

It is amazing how waste incineration as a form of waste management has garnered such a bad reputation in the public’s psyche. Perhaps it has a lot of historical antecedents in which it has always been regarded as a very dirty and polluting form of waste management. The truth however, is very far from that because EfW plants are now required to meet the industrial emission standards under the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) (EC, 2019). Nonetheless, the stigma that persists in the public mind is an unfair perception of a process which is meant to complement and not compete with recycling.

Recycling: The Silver Bullet?

Only metals1 and glass2 have an ‘infinite’ recycle life; this is not the case for other materials like plastic and paper, in contrast to what most people would like to believe. In fact, plastic can only be recycled once or twice at the most before being ‘downcycled’ to a product with a lower quality requirement (National Geographic, 2018). Paper can be recycled anywhere between 4 to 7 times before being downcycled to a lower quality product (Holmes, 2017). This degradation in quality with each recycle cycle represents the diminishing returns inherent in recycling Moreover, paper and plastic if not relatively clean (free of dirt and grease, etc) cannot be recycled.

Public opinion and perception however, seems to favour recycling over EfW; it seems to have lifted recycling to a pedestal much higher than it deserves.

The Future

Instead of seeing EfW as a competitor to recycling, it should be seen as an ally as intended in the waste hierarchy. In fact, without energy recovery from waste, the issue of mitigation of greenhouse gas emission from waste will not be possible; and the question of what you will do with the materials that cannot be recycled, residual wastes, will remain unanswered.

EfW therefore helps reconstruct biodiversity by drastically reducing or totally eliminating the requirement for land use for waste landfilling, instead of using it for tree planting, for example. The environment also benefits greatly by eliminating the emission of methane, which is 25 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, from would be landfills. Kumar et al (2020) agree that transition to clean, renewable energy and transport will seriously reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of future pandemics; EfW is an important contributor towards this goal.

Hence the value of incineration in EfW is in turning waste into a ‘resource’ that generates usable energy and thereby adding value in the chain of the Circular Economy. Germany is a rare example of one which is already leading the pack by having zero waste going to landfill. It has found the balance between recycling and energy recovery from waste; total resource utilisation, and this is at the core of what the Circular Economy is all about, turning waste into a resource for the benefit of all.

Blog Published May 2020


1 According to the World Gold Council  (2020), ‘The best estimates currently available suggest that around 190,040 tonnes of gold has been mined throughout history, of which around two-thirds has been mined since 1950. And since gold is virtually indestructible, this means that almost all of this metal is still around in one form or another’ and as Prior (2013) reports, ‘All the gold that has been mined throughout history is still in existence in the above-ground stock. That means that if you have a gold watch, some of the gold   in that watch could have been mined by the Romans 2,000 years ago’.

2 According to Berg Mill Supply Co. (2017), ‘Glass is infinitely and 100% recyclable! The quality and purity of glass is unaffected during remelting. Unlike some recycled commodities such as plastic, glass does not degrade with successive reuse.’


Berg Mill Supply Co. (2017). Infinitely Recyclable: The Upside Of Glass Recycling. https://bergmill.com/2017/05/09/infinitely-recyclable-upside-glass-recycling

EC (2019). The Industrial Emissions Directive - Environment - European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/environment/industry/stationary/ied/legislation.htm

Hassan, A., Nandy, M. and Roberts, L. (2020). Does loss of Biodiversity by businesses cause Covid 19? https://www.eauc.org.uk/does_loss_of_biodiversity_by_businesses_cause_c

Holmes, A. (2017). How Many Times Can That Be Recycled? | Earth911.Com. https://earth911.com/business-policy/how-many-times-recycled

Kumar, A., Burston, J. and Karliner, J. (2020). The deadly link between COVID-19 and air pollution, 15th April. The World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/the-deadly-link-between-covid-19-and-air-pollution

National Geographic (2018). 7 Things You Didn’T Know About Plastic (And Recycling). https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2018/04/04/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-plastic-and-recycling

Prior, E. (2013). How Much Gold Is There In The World? BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21969100

Stringfellow, T. (2014). An Independent Engineering Evaluation Of Waste-To-Energy Technologies - Renewable Energy World. https://www.renewableenergyworld.com/2014/01/13/an-independent-engineering-evaluation-of-waste-to-energy-technologies/#gref

Vidal, J. (2020). 'Tip Of The Iceberg': Is Our Destruction Of Nature Responsible For Covid-19?. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/18/tip-of-the-iceberg-is-our-destruction-of-nature-responsible-for-covid-19-aoe

World Gold Council (2020). How Much Gold Has Been Mined? | World Gold Council. https://www.gold.org/about-gold/gold-supply/gold-mining/how-much-gold

The Zero Waste utopia and the role of waste-to-energy

In many respects, the Zero Waste concept in the waste management realm seems akin to those seeking to create a perpetual motion machine, and to sell the idea to uninformed citizens. People are fascinated by the idea because it envisages the inspiration of consuming with a good conscience, leaving no garbage behind. Several hundred years ago, they were similarly captured by the idea of producing energy from nothing, using a perpetual motion machine. While the possibility of the latter has often been debunked, the potential to attain a Zero Waste state is still too broadly accepted by citizens and their government officials.

Against this background, this editorial addresses the idea of Zero Waste and the impossibility of its realisation, as well as the essential necessity of (a certain amount of) waste generation as a consequence of economic activity and consumption, due to its function as a sink for non-recoverable toxic and harmful substances.

First, an introduction to modern waste management is given, to clearly show that even the most sophisticated and well-developed programmes for waste reduction, collection, recycling, and treatment systems for waste cannot prevent the formation of at least a moderate, if not significant, residual waste stream.

Since the Zero Waste philosophy is often grounded in ideological environmental prejudices and opposition to proven and cost-effective elements of waste management – naturally, landfills and waste-to-energy (WtE) facilities – the (mostly unsubstantiated and often willingly wrong) related arguments are reflected on in the second part.

Well-performing waste management systems rest upon three main technical pillars:

  • Recycling, including composting;
  • Energy recovery;
  • Landfilling.

All these elements are inevitable for the effective and efficient function of the entire MSW management system, but their relative ratio can change to a very wide extent. Waste reduction and material recycling are the main targets, aimed at retaining as many resources as possible in the loop. Only those residual waste fractions which are no longer available for material utilisation should be treated in WtE plants, especially if they are harmful or hazardous. For inert and mineral waste and hazardous concentrates from other waste treatment processes, specific landfills are needed as final sinks.

According to the European waste hierarchy, recycling is the desired treatment option for waste that cannot be prevented or directly re-used. A key prerequisite for a high-quality recycling system is the source separation of materials that have market values. Typical material streams that are collected separately in households (and, to some extent, also at commercial sites) are glass, metals, paper and cardboard, (mixed) plastics and bio-waste. Recycling points offer several further separate collection systems – for example, for wood, WEEE, batteries, hazardous wastes, building materials, etc.

In well-developed waste management systems, the collection and recovery rates are high and the quality of each stream tends to be good. Nevertheless, only the recycling of glass is close to becoming unlimited, if contaminants (typically additives used to deliver a specific colour) can be kept out of the material in the long run. All other materials can only be recycled to a certain extent or up to a limited number of cycles, due to several physical and other constraints, as discussed in Rigamonti et al. (2018).

The number of recirculation cycles for paper, for example, amounts, on average, to 3.5 in Europe and only 2.4 worldwide (ERPC, 2016). After the material is utilised, the degraded short fibres that cannot be incorporated into new paper products are used as fuel, normally by combustion at the site of paper mills to supply the energy for the paper-making process (and often by co-combustion of refuse-derived fuel (RDF)). Plastics show the lowest recycling rates of all separately collected bulk materials. In part, this is due to the wide variety of plastics in commerce, only some of which are recyclable. Depending on the collection system, a high share of non-recyclable material (considered contaminates to buyers) is collected together with the valuables. In Germany and in Italy, for example, the official input-calculated recycling rate is, therefore, high, but less than 50% of the introduced material is, in fact, recycled. So, despite the good intentions of citizens, a significant portion of the after-use materials they deposit in recycling bins ends up as waste. More than 50% are incinerated as auxiliary fuels in coal power plants as well as in cement kilns and as sorting residues in WtE plants (Consultic, 2016). On a European level, the main share of plastics is used for energy recovery (39.5%) and 30.8% is still sent to landfill (Plastics Europe, 2016).

These facts clearly show that 100% recycling has not been possible to achieve even after decades of evolution in the waste management industry, aimed at maximising diversion of wastes from WtE plants and landfills. Harmful contaminants are always collected alongside the valuables and must be segregated to protect man and the environment. Apart from glass and metals, the valuables themselves may lose their original properties and need to be excluded from the cycle. For these residuals, a safe final treatment or disposal method must be available in order to protect public health. The only options are WtE for organic substances and landfilling for minerals and hazardous residues.

The necessity of a sink for non-recyclable and harmful substances has been explained above. Therefore, WtE is a necessary and compatible partner of recycling, and not a competitor that some might claim. A modern recycling economy is reliant on ecologically friendly and affordable treatment options for the residues arising from the recycling processes.

WtE is also indispensable for the treatment of another large and problematic fraction: the residual waste. These remainders of our civilisation have to be treated in an environmentally sound manner. Modern WtE plants are the method of choice and the only reasonable option for this purpose in locations with sufficiently dense populations and with the resources and technical talent to build and operate such plants.

WtE plants are able to destroy toxic organic substances and to mineralise all organic components in the waste. This can be regarded as a ‘kidney function,’ which is necessary for all organisms to keep themselves healthy and functioning (Bertram, 2013). If there were no sink for these harmful substances, our society would poison itself by the concentration of toxic components in all anthropogenic mass flows and, as a result, in water, air and soil. This fundamental kidney function can be fulfilled by WtE only – mechanical or biological waste treatment options (like mechanical and/or biological treatment (MBT)) are not able to guarantee this fundamental requirement, let alone the fact that they are just an intermediate processing stage.

State of the art for WtE is the incineration in dedicated plants with energy recovery, highly sophisticated flue gas cleaning and maximum recovery of the process residues. Nevertheless, alternative thermal processes, like gasification, pyrolysis, liquefaction or plasma technologies, are often considered a better option for this purpose, because they allegedly offer higher efficiencies and, in some cases, also the possibility to produce chemicals or fuels. This is, however, not the case. It has been clearly proven that alternative thermal waste treatment processes are entirely unsuitable to treat residual waste (Quicker, 2015). Its non-homogeneous character is not appropriate for such complex approaches, however sensible they might be for industrial operations – and even assuming that the technological issues related to such non-homogeneous characteristics could be solved, one would still be confronted with lower performances and unfavourable economics (Consonni and Viganò, 2012). Only homogenous fractions with constant composition and very low impurities may be suitable input materials for these processes.

Landfilling sits at the lowest level of the European waste hierarchy. This means that waste fractions shall only be landfilled if they can be neither recycled nor used for energy recovery – that is, inert or mineral fractions. Even though landfilling is the least favourable option for waste treatment, it is nonetheless an indispensable element of a modern MSW management program. We need a sink for all mineral fractions that cannot be used in the cycle anymore, like polluted construction materials, contaminated soils, flue gas cleaning residues, asbestos, etc.

The preceding paragraphs make it evident that aiming for the establishment of a Zero Waste society is as impossible as the construction of a perpetual motion machine. But, in contrast to the thermodynamically impossible device, a lot of people, institutions and politicians are unwilling to accept the fact that Zero Waste is an unattainable utopia and cannot be realised in a world that operates according to the longstanding laws of physics. Nevertheless, in order to support their position and to show that Zero Waste is without alternative, its protagonists sometimes try to discredit other treatment options, especially WtE. Some of the most frequently spread myths and lies about WtE are briefly listed and refuted below.

Thesis: WtE prevents recycling

Zero Waste activists tend to claim that WtE is a competitor to recycling and subtracts recyclable materials from the cycle in order to feed the fuel needs of existing WtE installations.

In fact, the opposite is true. WtE supports recycling by two framework conditions. The first point is that recycling needs a sink for the non-recyclable residues (as previously described). The recycling system can function properly only if ecologically friendly options for the treatment of these fractions exist. The second point is an economic one. The costs for WtE are much higher than for landfilling and on a comparable level to recycling. As a result, there is no economic driver to switch valuable materials from recycling to WtE. If landfilling is the only alternative to recycling, like it is the case in many southern and south-eastern European countries, the economic incentive to divert resources, which would otherwise be recycled, to cheap landfills is high. The relationship between landfilling, WtE and recycling in the European Union countries is well known among practitioners. It shows that those countries with a highly developed waste management system, characterised by high recycling rates, have the highest share of WtE and the lowest percentage of landfilling.

There is actually a third point worth considering. The recycling programs are far from being well established worldwide, being affected by market fluctuations as well as by specific policies such as China’s ‘National Sword’. This might, and already has, stress a system that can work properly only if the full value chain is operational and healthy. Being able to rely on the WtE option guarantees to deal with such situations, without the need to store huge amounts of waste materials, with a consequent risk of uncontrolled fires.

Thesis: WtE emits CO2 and intensifies climate change

WtE is carbon neutral when it comes to the combustion of the biogenic fractions such as paper, wood, and food waste. If landfilled, the degradation of such fractions would release methane, a more significant greenhouse gas than CO2, in situations where full capture of the landfill gas is not achievable. Obviously, the combustion of waste plastics will release fossil CO2, but the saved emissions from the displaced fossil fuels are offsetting, and this is especially relevant for high-efficient WtE facilities. Moreover, the recycling of low-quality mixed plastics streams, whenever that it is feasible, will hardly deliver a favourable greenhouse gas balance. Finally, in case a carbon capture and storage system is put in place at WtE facilities, they would become carbon negative!

Thesis: MBT is the better alternative

It is difficult, if not impossible, to establish a fair comparison between MBT and WtE, since the former is just a pre-treatment process that generates a number of outputs (as high as 80–90% in mass of the input), which require subsequent processing such as energy recovery, whether in a WtE plant or in co-combustion. Co-combustion in cement kilns is a fascinating option, but it can hardly be a structural one because, among others, of the reliance on a private sector that might be subject to market fluctuations and different dynamics. Moreover, MBT is not able to destroy toxic organic substances or to concentrate harmful inorganic ones – that is, it cannot act as a sink for pollutants.

Thesis: WtE affects the environment and human health by harmful pollutants

There is a general consensus that WtE has the lowest emission limits among all industrial facilities and WtE plants normally perform much better by orders of magnitude, sometimes even below the detection threshold of the instruments. WtE plants are the best monitored combustion plants, with atmospheric emissions continuously controlled and publicly reported. The effect of the residual emissions on the air quality is negligible, when compared, for instance, with the traffic emissions in surrounding areas (Lonati et al., 2019). Also, in comparison with landfills, the gaseous and liquid emissions from the latter are much more difficult to capture and contain.

Thesis: WtE is an extremely inefficient way of producing energy

Significant improvements have been achieved in recent years on the energy recovery efficiency of WtE plants. Large plants that produce only electricity can attain net efficiencies not too far from 30% – an impressive performance for a process where the waste-as-fuel input is very inhomogeneous and typically has a low heating value (lower than, say, coal) – a performance definitely higher than that achieved by small-scale biomass-fired plants. In addition, the combined heat and power operation is becoming mainstream, whether taking place at the service of district heating networks or of industrial facilities, yielding first-law efficiencies (sum of electric and thermal efficiency) of 80% and more.

The authors fully agree that society would be ideal if somehow we could operate an economy without waste. However, Zero Waste is clearly an unattainable chimera; it is, thus, irresponsible for government to structure programs to achieve a technological and economically infeasible objective, especially if by doing so it undermines the operations of well-established and functioning existing waste management systems. Proponents of Zero Waste are challenged to offer better achievable and certainly realistic alternatives.

The vital need of effective systems for dealing with residual waste streams, which include sinks for residuals, is demonstrated by the recent outbreak of Coronavirus, which is peaking as we compose this Editorial. For example, huge amounts of single-use, potentially contaminated items used to test for and treat COVID-19 patients are currently flooding the waste management system in many countries, and will do so whenever similar emergencies emerge in the future. The waste management sector must be structurally well prepared to effectively deal with such materials via combustion and secure landfilling when waste reduction and recycling alone cannot ensure the protection of public health and the environment.

Wrightbus reveals plans to deliver 3,000 hydrogen buses

Wrightbus reveals plans to deliver 3,000 hydrogen buses

Credit: Wrightbus
Credit: Wrightbus

Company owned by JCB heir submits proposal to government that would see UK become a trailblazer in hydrogen bus development

Plans to decarbonise the UK's bus fleet took a step forward this week, with the submission of plans to manufacture up to 3,000 zero emission hydrogen buses over the next four years.

According to various media reports, Northern Ireland-based Wrightbus, the bus manufacturer acquired last year by JCB heir Jo Bamford, has submitted documents to government detailing how it could scale up manufacture of its hydrogen buses with a view to converting up to 10 per cent of the UK fleet to zero emission models.

Advocate of hydrogen argue it is well suited for heavy vehicles and is a particularly effective option for buses as refuelling infrastructure can be installed at central depots.

Hydrogen buses have already been introduced or are planned, in a host of UK cities, including Aberdeen, London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Brighton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast.

The government has operated a number of green bus funding schemes for several years and recently announced plans for a £50m scheme to replace one town's entire bus fleet with electric models.

However, Wrightbus is now making the case for a £500m package from the government's National Bus Strategy fund to help stimulate the UK's hydrogen industry and support its plans to build at least 3,000 hydrogen buses by 2024.

It is reportedly recommending £200m be earmarked for hydrogen production sites and infrastructure, while an additional £300m is being requested to provide financial incentives to help operators purchase fuel cell models.

In a statement Bamford said the coronavirus crisis and the improvements in air pollution caused by the lockdown had highlighted how it was crucial for the UK to switch to cleaner vehicle technologies.

"Cities around the world are seeing massive reductions in air pollution as many vehicles have been kept off the road during the pandemic," he said. "However, the reality is that if we just go back to how public transport has traditionally been run, levels of pollution will quickly rise again to the same levels as before the crisis. We have an opportunity with hydrogen powered transport to make a huge difference to air quality, and for UK jobs as well."

He also stressed that a large scale hydrogen bus rollout would deliver considerable economic benefits as the UK plots its path out of recession.

"With increased orders on this scale I could increase the workforce at Wrightbus by nearly 700 per cent," he said. "UK-made hydrogen buses are ready to hit the streets today. We already have hydrogen buses in London, and 20 of Wrightbus' world-leading double deckers will be added to this later this year. We also have orders from Aberdeen, with many other areas becoming interested in our technology - in the UK and across the world."

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