Largest ever biogas supply agreement to boost infrastructure plans.

The 1st July announcement that Nature Energy and Shell have entered into a major agreement whereby Nature Energy will sell biogas to Shell Energy Europe Limited is heralded as the largest, to-date, of its kind in the world. This new tie-up with Shell promises to catapult Nature Energy onto the global stage.

“The agreement is a blue stamp of biogas as an important part of the green transition that is taking place all over the world. We are proud that an energy mastodon like Shell is investing in biogas from us” said Ole Hvelplund, CEO of Nature Energy.

“The agreement is a commercial breakthrough for biogas and at the same time gives us more muscle to realize new biogas projects. We have ambitions to build several large-scale biogas plants in Denmark, North America and Europe, and here the agreement with Shell is an important step on the path for Nature Energy” continued Mr Hvelplund.

AcuComm’s WasteView project database contains details 13 of Nature Energy’s biogas projects, all located in Denmark – including a large (600,000 tonnes of waste per annum) anaerobic digestion plant near Sønderborg which is due to be operational in 2021.

A Growing Canadian Presence in the US Waste Sector

Canada’s GFL Environmental, which entered the US solid waste sector in 2016 and has established itself as the market’s 4th largest player, has been named as the buyer of “substantially all anticipated divestitures” which will occur following Waste Management Inc’s US$4.6 billion acquisition of Advanced Disposal Services.

GFL will pay US$835 million for a package of assets which will include 32 collection operations, 36 transfer stations and 18 landfills supported by 380 collection vehicles across 10 states including Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Georgia, with Illinois, Florida, Kentucky, Indiana and Minnesota touted as the other likely locations. GFL has a positive record of working with Waste Management and as part of the deal, Waste Management also announced a “reciprocal five-year disposal arrangement” with GFL. The deal is expected to be finalised by the end of Q3 2020, pending approval from the US Department of Justice.

Waste Management’s acquisition of Advanced Disposal was announced in April 2019 when Advanced Disposal was serving more than three million residential, commercial, and industrial customers, including over 800 municipalities primarily in 16 states in the Eastern half of the US. Advanced Disposal’s solid waste network includes 94 collection operations, 73 transfer stations, 41 landfills, and 22 owned or operated recycling facilities.

AcuComm’s WasteView database has details of over 20 current and operational waste projects involving Waste Management Inc, Advanced Disposal Services or GFL Environmental, including Waste Management’s planned expansion of a landfill in Monticello, White County, Indiana.

Municipal Waste Disposal Services in Greater Manchester: dealing with COVID-19

Greater Manchester, with a population of around 2.8 million, is one of the UK’s single largest areas for waste disposal. In 1986, the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority (GMWDA) was created, covering most of Greater Manchester[1]. In 2018, the activities of the GMWDA were made part of the more general Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA). The leading provider of waste services for the GMCA is now Suez International, which has replaced Viridor. The company signed an initial seven-year contract with the GMCA in May 2019[2].

The Greater Manchester area generates around 1.1 million tonnes of waste each year. This figure has not changed much over the past five years. In 2018/19, around 47% was recycled or composted, up a little from 43% in 2014/15. The biggest change has been regarding landfill. In 2014/15, Greater Manchester sent 30% of waste to landfill, equal to 331,861 tonnes. By 2018/19, this had fallen to 8%, or 85,643 tonnes. Much of this now goes to WtE incineration. This accounted for 44% of waste disposal in 2018/19 (496,692 tonnes), compared with 25% (269,861 tonnes) in 2014/15.

Andy - Manchester 2
Source: DEFRA

Waste Facilities

There are now no active landfills in the area. The GMCA continues to maintain four closed sites, but the majority of old sites were sold off for redevelopment in 2012[3]. As noted above, landfill tonnage has reduced considerably, and what remains is presumably freighted outside the area for disposal.

Residual waste is first taken to one of five Mechanical Treatment and Reception facilities. These are located in Oldham, Salford, Sharston and Stockport, as well as Manchester itself[4]. These sort waste and create RDF, which is taken to the Runcorn facility (see below).

Greater Manchester maintains one WtE incineration facility, at Raikes Lane in Bolton. This is an old facility, first built in 1971 and modernised in 2000. It generates up to 11 MW of electricity and has annual capacity of around 100,000 tonnes[5].

This is only around 20% of the total WtE registered for Greater Manchester. The bulk of the rest is sent to the Runcorn Energy From Waste Plant. This is in Cheshire, outside Greater Manchester. The site is managed by Viridor and opened in two stages in 2015. It can treat around 850,000 tonnes of waste annually, and generates a maximum of 80 MW of electrical power.

Finally, the GMCA maintains a Materials Recovery Facility, located at Longley Lane in Manchester. This can handle 90,000 tonnes of pre-separated recycling waste per year, and sorts glass, metals and plastics.

Andy - Manchester 1
Source: GCMA/AcuComm database

COVID-19: Lockdown challenges

The effects of the COVID-19 lockdown have been affected in two principal ways, as SUEZ seeks to implement the necessary social distancing rules. Firstly there are fewer household waste collections. Domestic waste collection across Manchester typically entails one general waste collection per week, plus fortnightly collections for paper, metal/glass/plastic, and garden/food waste. Under the COVID-19 restrictions, the weekly general collection remains, but recycling collections are now only monthly, and weekly garden/food waste collections have stopped altogether.

Secondly, as of March 23rd, all 20 public recycling centres across Greater Manchester have been closed, until further notice. Individuals and tradesmen are no longer able to take garden waste or bulky items to be disposed of.

It is far too early for statistics to appear, but there are sure to have been major changes in the composition of waste. With more people at home more of the time, the volume of domestic waste can be expected to rise, counterbalanced by a major, and probably far greater, fall in waste from businesses, shops and restaurants. Within the domestic sphere, recycling levels are likely to fall, as people put more of their recyclables into their regular bin, instead of the recycling bin (fewer collections) or taking things to the recycling centre (closed). While the overall level of waste generation is probably falling during the lockdown, dealing with these changing geographic and waste-mix patterns is a challenge for waste companies and managers.

There are other knock-on environmental effects too. The ban on food waste collections had to be briefly lifted, as councils realised that indefinitely leaving rotting food in people’s bins is a potential public health hazard. Noticeably more people have been having bonfires in their gardens, seemingly to get rid of garden waste that is not now being collected. We can probably expect a rise in fly-tipping, as people have no easy means of disposing of bulky or difficult-to-dispose-of items. As I write, there is some vague talk of a partial reopening of recycling centres, probably for those very reasons. Finally, more people are doing their grocery shopping online, and this is leading to a resurgence in single-use plastic bags, as these are the best way to deliver shopping in the days of social distancing. I am sure there will be other, as yet unforeseen, consequences.

These sorts of restrictions and challenges are of course not unique to Manchester; they apply to urban areas across the UK and indeed the developed world. When economies come out of this emergency, many things are going to look very different, and the waste sector cannot expect to remain unaffected.

[1] The town of Wigan is the only part of Greater Manchester to continue to manage its waste disposal separately.

[2] Suez press release https://www.suez.com/en/news/press-releases/suez-supports-the-greater-manchester-in-its-waster-management-services-for-an-amount-of-over-one-billion-sterling

[3] GMCA https://zerowastegm.co.uk/energy-and-waste-management/landfill-aftercare-2/

[4] GMCA https://zerowastegm.co.uk/energy-and-waste-management/mechanical-biological-treatment-facilities/

[5] https://recycleforgreatermanchester.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/TRF-Case-Study-R4GM-Higher-level-fact-sheets-August-2014_Layout-1-2.pdf

Andy Crofts: Chief Analyst, AcuComm

Covid-19: AcuComm Services continue unchanged

Dear Customer,

There is considerable concern related to the developing Covid-19 situation with many companies facing operational challenges.

As an advanced digital information company AcuComm’s operation has always accommodated remote home-office working by our staff and consultants.  Therefore, in the current circumstances, I do not envisage there will be interruption to the maintenance and delivery of your AcuComm service.

We will continue to monitor developments and will contact you in the event of any change.  If you have any specific questions then please contact me directly.

Yours sincerely

Kimberley Wigart

Managing Director

AcuComm’s Waste Investment Review 2019

AcuComm has published its Waste Investment Review 2019, a complimentary 22-page summary of newly-announced waste and waste-related investments during 2019.

During 2019, AcuComm identified 917 major new investments in the global waste and waste-related sectors. That’s nearly three new investments per day. These represented a total estimated value of US$54.9 billion, or US$60 million each on average. These account for an estimated annual feedstock capacity of 195 million tonnes, equal to 212,610 tonnes each on average, or 664 tonnes per day (using a 320-day year). An estimated 529 investments involved the generation of electrical power and/or heat in some form, equal to 58% of the total. The total estimated power/heat generated from these projects is 12,635 MW, or 24 MW each on average.

The data in the report is taken from AcuComm’s proprietary Business Database. This is a database of projects compiled and maintained by us on a daily basis. The information in it is not readily available from any other source. Our analytics use a combination of reported and modelled data. We collect many thousands of points of data regarding investment values, project capacity, power output and likely timescales. This enables us to build models for determining these values on an industry-wide and industry-specific scale. As a result, we are able to provide comprehensive analytic data which remains firmly grounded in ‘real world’ information.

All of AcuComm’s clients receive this report automatically uploaded to their customer account. 

Not an AcuComm customer? Feel free to contact the report’s author and Chief Data Analyst, Andy Crofts, for further details ([email protected]) or Senior Editor, Ian Taylor ([email protected]).

Where now for waste in the UK?

The UK general election held on December 12th has produced the first stable majority government in the country since 2010, and the first such Conservative majority government since the mid 1990s. That prospect may of course thrill you or leave you deeply apprehensive. But one fact is inescapable; with a parliamentary majority of 80, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has an opportunity to reshape policy over the next five years, in more or less whatever way he wishes.

What might the effects of this be for the waste management industry? In the near and medium term, I suspect quite limited. The Conservative manifesto for the election makes only a handful of references:

‘We will continue to lead the world in tackling plastics pollution, both in the UK and internationally, and will introduce a new levy to increase the proportion of recyclable plastics in packaging. We will introduce extended producer responsibility, so that producers pay the full costs of dealing with the waste they produce, and boost domestic recycling. We will ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries, consulting with industry, NGOs and local councils on the date by which this should be achieved.

‘…We will increase penalties for fly-tipping, make those on community sentences clean up their parks and streets, and introduce a deposit return scheme to incentivise people to recycle plastic and glass.’

Recycling and better use of plastics heads the field. None of these proposals is new, and many of the details have yet to be fleshed out. It will be interesting to see which, if any, of these, will be covered in the next Queen’s Speech (which, while neither binding nor necessarily comprehensive, details the government’s legislative agenda for the coming year) due in the coming days.

There’s clear commercial opportunity here for anyone involved in the plastics recycling industry, in two principal ways. Firstly, the promotion of greater recycling should spur the development of technologies to this end, in manufacturing, sorting and recycling of plastics.

Secondly, the government has flagged greater controls on exports of plastic waste, with a proposed ban on shipments to developing countries. This is in line with developments under the UN Basel Convention, which I looked at the other day. (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/lucky-97-basel-amendment-andy-crofts/) To date, the UK has shipped a lot of plastic waste abroad, to China until 2018 and thence to a range of countries in Asia and Africa. If this trade stops, then this provides a strong incentive for the development of greater domestic capacity. This driver is not UK -specific, but global; for example, I recently looked at Brightmark, a company looking to do just this in the USA. (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/making-plastic-waste-valuable-turn-fuel-andy-crofts/). The opportunities are becoming global.

So much for plastics, what about the wider waste industry? In the past few years it has become harder to build new Waste-to-Energy plants in the UK. This follows a decade or more where new WtE was seen as the best replacement for landfill. The government cut funding for investment projects a couple of years back, citing the achievement of its landfill reduction aims. You can agree with that or not, but this has, I think, tended to lead to a drive for larger facilities with greater economies of scale and therefore greater likelihood of profitable commercial operation. This in turn brings greater risks in negotiating an already lengthy planning process. One such project is the 500,000 tonne per year facility planned in Andover, Hampshire, where a planning decision is due in 2020. Other plants have already been cancelled on planning grounds, such as Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, where a 350,000 tonne plant was due to be built by Veolia, but was refused planning in February 2019.

I wouldn’t expect the new government to rush to change this harder approach to the WtE sector. It is keen to burnish its green credentials – a slightly surprising ban on fracking was announced earlier this year – and greater investment in large WtE projects probably doesn’t fit that agenda, however unfair this may be to the modern technologies now employed.

What will happen then? It may well be that small is beautiful. One new British company caught my eye recently. Heru is based in Stratford-upon-Avon, and is developing a series of small-scale WtE units that can potentially be used by businesses or even domestic homes to dispose of waste and generate power from it. Questions remain to be answered about cost-effectiveness and energy efficiency, but on paper such an approach looks game-changing if the numbers can be made to work. Test plants are in operation, with a six month trial concluding in September this year. A WtE plant in every home? It’s an intriguing idea.

And I haven’t even mentioned Brexit. Sterling rallied on news of the Conservative victory, and there is now the prospect of a more stable and orderly UK exit from the EU beginning next month. Quite where that transition will end up is open to question, but business planners will be glad to put the political horror show of the past couple of years behind them. The short term effects of Brexit on the waste sector should be muted. Trade in waste products between the UK and EU will continue, following agreements reached over a year ago, and fears of logistical difficulties at the ports will surely now recede as Johnson’s EU deal passes the new parliament in the coming weeks. In the longer term, there is scope for the UK to develop environmental approaches which differ from the EU. This is unlikely to be a political priority, however, and if it does happen will more likely be in areas of conservation unrelated to the waste sector.

Andy Crofts – Chief Analyst, AcuComm

Making plastic waste valuable: turn it into fuel?

Most developed economies are experiencing problems with plastic waste. Prior to 2018, much of it was sent to China, in principle to be recycled. In practice, much was burnt or simply ended up in the oceans. While other export destinations in Asia or Africa have taken some of the slack since the Chinese ban, tighter regulations in many of these countries have rapidly been introduced. In the longer term, therefore, dealing with plastic waste domestically is going to take a far higher priority.

Key to this is seeing plastic waste as a commodity with a useful purpose and therefore value, instead of just an environmental problem to be dealt with. Only in this way will the issue attract sufficient investment and industry attention.

Companies are already looking at the potential of the sector. One such is Brightmark Energy, based in San Francisco, California. The company, founded only in 2016, has developed a plastics renewal technology which can convert plastic waste into fuel, wax and a range of other useful end-products. The company already has one US$138 million facility under construction. This is based in Ashley, Indiana, and is expected to begin operations in 2020. It will have an annual capacity of 100,000 tons (US) of plastic. According to Brightmark, one advantage of its processes is that a single stream of mixed plastics can be used, removing the need to pre-sort waste and remove non-recyclable plastics.

The Indiana plant has experienced delays; construction was originally due to begin in 2016, but ground was broken on the site only in May 2019. Now that has happened, however, Brightmark is looking at further sites. On 5th November 2019, Brightmark announced a US-wide request for proposals (RFP) process for the site selection for locations suitable for its next set of recycling facilities. The nationwide search will begin on 19th November with a webinar and formal indication of interest submission for interested communities. Brightmark expects to invite up to 25 communities to submit formal RFP responses. Following evaluation of these, final sites will be chosen in late first quarter or early second quarter of 2020.

There is clearly growing interest in the issue of plastic waste in the US, and a rising awareness of the need for– and value of –  domestic means of dealing with it. Brightmark is not alone. AcuComm currently covers 45 active investments in the US plastic waste sector, including those listed above. Click here to check out the whole list.

Pre-flight coffee and biofuel

London Stansted Airport in the UK is set to become the first airport in the world to convert all its coffee grounds to solid biofuels after a successful trial with Cambridgeshire-based bio-bean, which claims the title of the world’s largest recycler of coffee grounds.

Passengers at London Stansted drink over six million cups of coffee a year as they pass through the terminal, creating over 150 tonnes of coffee waste. The partnership, which will begin on 21st October 2019 will see all 21 of the airport’s coffee shops, restaurants and bars segregate all spent coffee grounds before being transported to bio-bean’s hi-tech processing facility near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

The grounds are then converted into Coffee Logs, each made from the grounds of around 25 cups of coffee and used in domestic wood burners and multi-fuel stoves. Recycling coffee grounds this way saves 80% on CO2 emissions than if they were sent to landfill and 70% than if they were sent to an anaerobic digestion facility and mixed with food waste.

Dealing with the waste grounds and disposable cups from global coffee consumption is a mammoth undertaking, with an estimated 2.25 billion cups of coffee being consumed each day. AcuComm’s WasteView database currently includes 16 projects featuring coffee-related waste.

The Maldives: Dealing with MSW in paradise

The Maldives is a vast archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It is sparsely populated, having less than half a million people. Income per person is relatively high, estimated by the IMF at US$14,571 in 2019. This level of income has been attained rapidly over the past couple of decades, and is almost entirely due to the growth of tourism.

This rapid growth has given the Maldives a municipal waste problem, as tourism and rising income levels have led to more waste being generated. Additionally, more of that waste comprises plastics, metals and hazardous materials, and is therefore harder to deal with. To this can be added the country’s geography. Large numbers of small widely-dispersed islands present a quite different challenge to, say, a single large city. As we have seen in other developing parts of the world, there is simply no infrastructure to deal with this.

As a response, Thilafushi, a coral atoll, was designated as a landfill island as long ago as 1992, although most of its growth has taken place in the past decade. It takes anywhere between 300 and 800 tonnes per day of waste (statistics are scarce and reports contradictory). This is supposed to be sorted and sent to different areas of the island, although uncontrolled dumping and burning seems to be the norm in practice. The volume of waste has become too large to be properly accommodated, and much leaks back into the surrounding waters. This naturally matters on environmental grounds, and even more so since Thilafushi is only a few kilometres from Malé, the main island and capital of the Maldives.

maldivesSource: Bing Maps. Click here for the precise location online.

The two photographs below show Thilafushi in 2005 and 2019. The southern part has been greatly extended by the landfill site as the volume of waste creeps around the lagoon.

googleearth googleearth2Source: Google Earth Pro

Thilafushi was intended to solve the Maldives’ waste problem, but its inadequacy has become a scandal in itself. The Maldives’ government, spurred by environmental pressures and the need to preserve the country’s reputation as a tourist paradise, has made fitful efforts to improve the situation. Management of the island has, in theory, improved with the creation of Waste Management Corporation Limited (WAMCO) with a mandate to provide a sustainable waste management solution throughout the country. In January 2016, WAMCO officially took over waste management for Malé region. This includes the daily transfer of waste from Malé to Thilafushi and the resulting disposal of waste there.

Greater use of WtE incineration has been the preferred means of alleviating the problem, although until recently little had been achieved, with various plans coming and going without success. In September 2019, the government announced that three small incinerators currently based on Thilafushi will be dismantled and rebuilt on islands on other parts of the country. These are tiny, with daily capacity of four tonnes each, and would appear to be part of a move to dispose of waste in situ rather than ship it to Thilafushi, which will of course lose incineration capacity in the meantime. The move should be completed in early 2022.

The move anticipates a more significant development for Thilafushi, which is the construction of a proper WtE facility there. On 23rd May 2019, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) issued a General Procurement Notice for the Greater Malé Waste to Energy Project. The Ministry of Finance, on behalf of Ministry of Environment, has published an Invitation for Prequalification for sealed bids to design, build and operate a waste-to-energy facility at K. Thilafushi (Reference Number: (IUL)13-K/13/2019/148, Project Number: TES/2019/W-073). The deadline for submission of applications was extended from 18th July to 4th August 2019. This contract will be jointly financed by the ADB, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Japan Fund for Joint Crediting Mechanism. It is expected that the Invitation for Bids will be made in November 2019. Details on the scope of the project are currently not available, but its progress can be tracked on the ADB website here.

2019 has also begun to see some positive developments elsewhere. On 22nd July 2019, the Maldives began generating energy from waste for the first time, through a facility opened in Vandhoo, Raa Atoll. Funded via concessional loan assistance from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Vandhoo Regional Waste Management Centre was established in order to manage waste from the Atolls of Noonu, Raa, Baa and Lhaviyani.