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.

 

Bioenergy Leads Renewable Generation in UK in Q2 2019

At the end of September 2019, the UK government released the latest Energy Trends statistical report which reveals that energy production from bioenergy and waste rose by 10.4% during the second quarter of 2019 when compared to the same period of 2018.

The increase in output is attributed to increased capacity, with an 8.5% rise in plant biomass capacity primarily due to the biomass conversion of Lynemouth power station and the conversion of another unit at the Drax Power Station in Selby, North Yorkshire.

Electricity generation from bioenergy increased by 7.2% 9.2 TWh over the second quarter of 2018. The increase in generation from plant biomass was partially offset by reduced generation from landfill gas and anaerobic digestion.

Bioenergy accounted for the largest share of the UK’s renewable generation during the quarter, at 34%, ahead of onshore wind at 22%, offshore wind at 22%, solar photovoltaics at 18%, and hydro at 3.5%.

AcuComm’s WasteView database has details of 867 active biomass energy plants, 133 landfill gas plants and 1,102 anaerobic digestion plants, valued at a total of US$88,326 million.

Recycling lithium batteries

Lithium batteries have been around for nearly 30 years now. They are used increasingly in a wide range of product, from phones to electric vehicles to aeroplanes. They have the advantage of being easily rechargeable and generate more power than older battery technologies. They do, however present specific risks when being disposed of; they are more easily flammable, and a lithium-based fire is not easy to put out. As more products and vehicles containing these batteries come to the end of their life, waste operators are having to take more care in identifying and sorting them from general waste streams. It’s a new area, but in the past few years, efforts have begun to be made to better understand how lithium batteries can be safely dealt with and recycled.

A search of the AcuComm database reveals a handful of dedicated lithium battery recycling plants around the world. Australia opened its first such facility in 2017, when Envirostream began operations in Melbourne. Its processing line can process 40 tonnes of batteries per month. The process requires batteries to have all their energy discharged prior to any handling by the company’s staff. After this first step, all batteries are granulated in an environment of negative pressure to ensure that all airborne dust particles are captured. Cobalt, nickel and lithium, which are in dust form and mixed, go for further processing and can be separated and purified to be used again in battery manufacture.

In Japan, a facility dedicated to recycling lithium batteries from electric vehicles opened in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, in 2018. The plant is operated by 4R Energy Corporation, a joint venture between Nissan and Sumitomo. The availability of used lithium-ion batteries is expected to increase significantly in the near future as buyers of the first generation of electric cars look to replace their vehicles. The batteries recycled and refabricated at the factory will be used to offer the world’s first exchangeable refabricated battery for electric vehicles.

Another approach is the better sorting of lithium batteries from the general waste stream, or indeed to sort them from other battery types. For example, In 2017, Refind Technologies installed its OBS600 optical battery sorting technology at Raw Materials Company’s (RMC) recycling facility in Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada. The equipment is capable of sorting 600 kg of batteries per hour. The OBS600 machine uses a camera and machine learning software to recognise each battery by its label. It can handle small consumer batteries of cylindrical and rectangular shape and can sort them by chemistry, including alkaline, zinc-carbon, nickel-metal hydride, nickel-cadmium and lithium primary.

Finally, a couple of major R&D centres have recently been announced, to investigate ways to recycle lithium batteries and other hard to process e-waste items. In February 2019, the US Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office opened the first lithium-ion battery recycling research and development centre at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, IL. Known as the ReCell Center, the project aims to reclaim and recycle critical materials from lithium-based battery technology. The recycling centre focuses on cost-effective recycling processes to recover as much economic value as possible from spent batteries.

Soon after, in March 2019, Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the French Alternative Energies and the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA – Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives) unveiled the launch of a joint research centre to develop innovative, energy-efficient solutions for the recycling and recovery of resources from electrical and electronic waste. The new centre, named the NTU Singapore-CEA Alliance for Research in Circular Economy (NTU SCARCE), will focus on four research areas that address the recycling and recovery of materials from common e-waste such as: lithium-ion batteries, silicon-based solar panels; printed circuit boards from discarded e-waste; and detoxifying plastic parts in e-waste. The National Environment Agency of Singapore is supporting this centre under the agency’s Closing the Waste Loop Research and Development Initiative.

The map below shows the locations of all the lithium recycling and R&D sites mentioned in the AcuComm database. To explore the full dataset, click here.

mapSource: AcuComm database, October 2019

A Guide to WasteView Contract Finder

WasteView Contract Finder provides your business with unparalleled access to ‘real-time’ business opportunities in the Waste, Bioenergy & Recycling sectors. Projects in our industry-leading database are added and updated daily by our team of expert global researchers.

How does it work?

What’s included?

With WasteView Contract Finder, you get full access to the AcuComm database. This includes access to 7,300+ projects and the contact details of over 21,000 decision-makers that are associated with them.

Your subscription gives you unlimited downloads, the ability to search by company and an easy export functionality to populate your CRM.

Get started by identifying your new business opportunities in less than a minute.

If you’d like any more information about WasteView Contract Finder or any other of AcuComm’s products, get in touch with the team today on 01243 788686.

Dutch tax on imported waste will impact the UK

The Dutch government is to tax waste imported for incineration as from 1st January 2020 in a measure which expands on the afvalstoffenbelasting, an existing tax on domestic waste sent for incineration. This waste tax rate currently stands at €32.12 per tonne. The expansion of the tax was formally announced as part of  its 2020 budget plans published on 18th September.

The government predicts that the expansion of the tax will all but eliminate imports of refuse-derived fuel (RDF) in just three years as the tax would raise the total cost of waste incineration in the Netherlands above the average price in competing countries. RDF imports currently make up around a quarter of all of the wastes incinerated in Dutch WtE plants. The Netherlands imported approximately 1.9 million tonnes of waste for incineration in 2017.

The impact of the additional taxation will be felt keenly in the UK which exports more of its RDF to the Netherlands than any other country. In 2018, almost half of UK exports (about 1.3 million tonnes) was sent to the Netherlands.

So there promises to be tougher times ahead, not only for WtE plant operators in the Netherlands, but also for UK RDF exporters which will have to find new markets to sell to, or find alternative disposal methods closer to home, which could boost recycling, WtE and perhaps even landfill activity in the UK.

Southern England WtE update

The last few weeks have seen mixed fortunes for several major waste-to-energy projects in the South of England. Here’s a roundup.

On 27th September 2019, Grundon and Viridor announced outline plans for the development of a new waste-to-energy (WtE) facility at Ford in West Sussex. The facility will be built at Grundon’s Ford Circular Technology Park, near its existing waste transfer and depot operations, and adjacent to Viridor’s existing materials recovery facility (MRF).

Attempts to build a facility on the site go back several years. West Sussex County Council granted planning permission for a non-hazardous waste facility on the site in 2014, but this was never built. While Grundon has noted that the planning permission therefore already exists for the site, it is currently unclear how the 2019 proposal relates to the older plans. The latter entailed a 200,000 tonne per year gasification plant, dealing predominantly with industrial and commercial waste.

Click here to view the precise location in Bing maps.

map

Also in the south of England, Wheelabrator has experienced a setback in its attempts to construct a WtE plant at the A303 Enviropark near Andover in Hampshire. A public consultation ended in March 2019. Wheelabrator expects the second stage of statutory public consultation to take place between early November to mid-December 2019, later than originally planned. Wheelabrator has been reviewing the design plans of the proposed development after receiving feedback on the current design during non-statutory consultation and has confirmed that there will be two combustion lines at the outset, and therefore there will be no phasing. The planning application is expected to be submitted towards the end of the first quarter of 2020.

Click here to view the precise location in Bing maps.

map2

Finally, there is progress to report on the long-anticipated replacement for the Edmonton WtE plant in north London. This dates to the 1970s and is coming to the end of its working life. The operator, North London Waste Authority (NLWA), first began plans for a new facility in 2014. Contracts began to be issued in 2018, and a third ‘Market Information Event’ was held on 9th October 2019 in central London for works associated with the delivery of the project. It has been subject to some ground preparation delays, but NLWA still anticipates that the site will become operational in 2025.

Click here to view the precise location in Bing maps.

map3

Lucky 97 for the Basel Amendment

Croatia recently made a small piece of waste management history. Earlier last month, it ratified the United Nations Basel Convention Amendment. This means that enough countries have now ratified it and it has come into force.

The Amendment in question seeks to completely ban shipments of hazardous waste from developed countries (principally OECD+EU) to developing ones. This is regardless of the method of disposal in the importing country; shipments for recycling or waste to energy are not permitted. It came into force in 1995, but national ratifications have been slow. Croatia’s ratification came on September 6th 2019, making it the 97th country to ratify. Hazardous waste is broadly defined as anything explosive, flammable, toxic or corrosive. The full definitions can be found in the annexes to the text here.

The Amendment forms part of the wider UN Basel Convention. This began in 1989 as a way of controlling the export of waste, and especially hazardous waste, to developing countries. It was ratified in 1992 with pretty much every country in the world signing up, with the large exception of the USA. Oddly, the US government signed the Convention in 1990, and the Senate gave consent in 1992. However, the accompanying legislation required has never been enacted and the Convention is therefore not ratified in the USA. Given the timescale involved I’d hazard the view that it’s not a priority for US lawmakers and we shouldn’t expect anything soon.

While the USA is the only major country yet to ratify the Convention as a whole, a number of OECD countries have yet to ratify the Amendment. These include Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico and New Zealand. Other major countries not to ratify are Brazil, India and Russia, although there is less effect in these cases as they are not OECD members.

The Basel process is still an ongoing one. In May 2019, the Convention has begun looking at the inclusion of plastic waste within its remit, with a special emphasis on reducing the amount of plastics entering the world’s oceans.

As the environmental and regulatory pressure grows, exporting of waste is going to get harder and less financially viable. This is a major headache currently, but is also a huge opportunity for the development of capacity in countries which currently export a lot of waste.

Who are these countries? The top ten leading waste exporters in 2018, by monetary value, are shown in the graph below. Note this refers to all identifiable waste, not just hazardous elements. The global total in 2018 amounted to US$113.4 billion, of which the top ten accounted for US$68.4 billion or 60.3%. The USA headed the field with just under US$21.0 billion, and seven of the remaining nine are members of the OECD. Only Russia and Hong Kong in 9th and 10th places respectively are not OECD members.

exportersSource: AcuComm analysis of UN trade statistics

VTT biofuel trial success leading to industrial scale-up

During September, the production of biofuel by gasification of biomass residues was successfully validated in the EU’s COMSYN project. The process performance was verified with crushed bark in an 80 hour-long test run at Finland’s Technical Research Centre – VTT. The syngas conversion to Fischer-Tropsch (FT) products was conducted by Berlin-based IneraTec.

The main focus of the test was to study and verify the performance of the gas cleaning train, and especially the entire synthesis process with real wood-derived gasification gas.

“The first validation test runs successfully demonstrated the efficiency of the compact gasification and synthesis process concept, as well as the production of FT-products, waxes and other hydrocarbons” said Principal Scientist Pekka Simell from VTT.

The crushed bark was gasified in a fluidised-bed gasifier with steam as the main gasification agent. The raw gasification gas was filtered with advanced metal filters supplied by GKN Sinter Metals Filters. Tars and light hydrocarbon gases were reformed using the staged reformer concept developed by VTT. Final cleaning of the reformed synthesis gas of sulphur and other remaining contaminants was realised through a robust sorbent-based cleaning process developed by VTT.

Based on the results, industrial-scale plants in the range of 25,000-50,000 tonnes per annum will be designed and techno-economic and environmental assessments, as well as business case studies, will be carried out by the DLR German Aerospace Center and two engineering companies: Wood from Italy and ÅF-Consult from Finland.

COMSYN is a four-year EU Horizon 2020 project that lasts from 2017 to 2021 with a budget of EUR 5.1 million from EU Horizon 2020. The project consortium consists of seven partners from four different countries combining research institutes, SME and top-level European industry. The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

AcuComm’s WasteView projects database currently has 17 projects featuring the installation of Fischer-Tropsch technology, for further details search here.