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.

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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.

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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.

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Rome: Fiddling while the waste grows

Waste disposal in the Italian capital, Rome, has been in the news lately, or more accurately, the lack of it. Rome has lacked waste management capacity since its principal landfill (Malagrotta) was closed on environmental and mismanagement grounds in 2013. This followed a long-running European Commission investigation into the Roman and wider Italian waste sector. Since then, the city’s politicians have argued about what should replace the landfill, to little obvious effect.

Other than, that is, a rising level of waste around the city which smells worse and poses a greater health hazard in the hot summer months. Rome currently exports its waste either to other parts of the country or abroad. But even this arrangement seems to be falling prey to mismanagement and a lack of capacity. The end result is waste left untreated or dealt with illegally.

At AcuComm we don’t unearth a lot of waste projects in Italy, we’ve wondered why but, given the Roman experience, this is probably a fair reflection of the investment climate. The AcuComm database currently contains 28 waste-related projects, worth an estimated US$886 million or US$32 million each on average. The majority are either anaerobic digestion/biogas projects or dedicated materials recycling plants. You can check them all out here.

Aside from AD/biogas, there is very little investment activity in the waste-to-energy field. In 2016, the government decided that eight new MSW WtE plants should be constructed, to provide a total capacity of 1.831 million tonnes per year. As yet, nothing seems to have come of any of these plans, however. Other planned facilities have also struck difficulties. A new plant in Florence was approved in 2016 but was cancelled in 2018. An expansion of a plant in Pavia was announced around the same time, but this was postponed in 2017. At present, the only WtE plants that look likely are smaller and high-tech industry-specific ones. An example is a waste paper pyrolysis facility announced in northern Italy in 2019. This has yet to be built but has received approval on environmental grounds from the regional government.

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Italy’s official data for the generation and treatment of waste is interesting. The country generates more than it treats. In 2016, generation was 164 million tonnes, while treatment was 136 million tonnes, a treatment gap of 28 million tonnes or around 17%. Where does this unaccounted waste go? Assuming an accurate and consistent count (and the graph below demonstrates this may not be entirely the case), the best scenario is that it is exported to neighbouring countries. At worst, it’s disposed of illegally in an uncontrolled manner.

The official treatment figures themselves paint a suspiciously rosy picture. In 2016, recycling accounted for 79% of all waste treatment in Italy, landfill for 14% and incineration for the remaining 7%.  The broad story in the 2004-2016 period is that the proportion of landfill has more or less halved, while recycling and more or less doubled.

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How believable these figures are I’ll leave you to speculate on; the definition of ‘recycling’ can be very wide indeed. But the most pertinent point to note in the case of Italy is the near-total lack of adoption of WtE as a treatment method, in contrast to other major European economies.

As we are seeing in Rome, the options are limited once landfill is taken out of the treatment mix. The contrast with, for example, London, is great. London has reduced its reliance on landfill over the past 15 years but has also had a policy of building capacity to treat its own waste where possible, and not ship it elsewhere. Hence, a number of waste plants have been built or are earmarked across the city. Rome, like London, is a rich city. What it lacks is the political will to outline a solution.

WtE Tax? Let me tell you how it will be…

A tax on waste incineration may soon be coming to the UK. What’s all that about? The landfill tax has had great success in reducing landfill volumes, and there has been a well-documented rise in WtE incineration, both in terms of volume and monetary investment. It seems that the government now thinks this has gone too far, and corrective measures are needed to boost, not landfill, but greater and greener recycling methods.

The subject, unusually, reached Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons this month. West Wiltshire MP, Dr Andrew Murchison, asked ‘Will the Government strengthen their bid to host the 2020 United Nations climate change conference by putting a moratorium on new incinerator, gasification and pyrolysis applications, including the one in Westbury [see here for AcuComm’s coverage of this project], in my constituency?’. To which the prime minister replied ‘We want to maximise the amount of waste that is sent to recycling rather than to incineration and landfill. Waste plants continue to play an important role in reducing the amount of rubbish that is sent to landfill, and we welcome the efforts to drive it down further. but if wider policies do not deliver our waste ambitions in the future—including those higher recycling rates—we will consider introducing a tax on the incineration of waste’.

The PM’s reply was taken more or less directly from the report outlined below. What was interesting about the question was that it lumped newer technologies such as gasification and pyrolysis together which traditional WtE facilities. All much the same in the eyes of campaigners, one suspects.

There are no details or timetables, and the composition of the UK government in a few months from now is anyone’s guess. But a tax on waste incineration has been around Whitehall for a while now. In December 2018, the government issued a strategy document, ‘Our Waste, Our Resources, A Strategy For England’. This deals with all aspects of waste management, but one area highlighted is better efficiency in the waste incineration sector. The principal government concern seems to be to make greater use of CHP (combined heat and power) than at present; most current facilities contribute electricity only. But there also seems to be a concern that there is now too much WtE incineration and too little recycling, and its use may need to be curtailed through tax, as has been the case with landfill:

‘Should wider policies not deliver the Government’s waste ambitions in the long-term, we will consider the introduction of a tax on the incineration of waste. Incineration currently plays a significant role in waste management in the UK, and the Government expects this to continue. However, Budget 2018 set out the Government’s long term ambition to maximise the amount of waste sent to recycling instead of incineration and landfill. Any consideration would take into account how such a tax would work alongside Landfill Tax and the possible impacts on local authorities.’ (page 79, editor’s bold)

A tax might also, of course, incentivise CHP over current investment patterns, although the government does not explicitly say this. The idea of an incineration tax means different things to different people, depending on the desired outcome. Neil Grundon, of Grundon Waste Management, has a slightly different take. Writing on the CIWM web site in November 2018, he argued that the landfill tax has led to an increase in RDF exports rather than investment in domestic waste treatment capacity. A tax on RDF exports, rather than incineration itself, would, therefore, discourage these exports and provide cash for domestic investment in new, greener, treatment methods. Large incinerators would be taxed, to encourage the development of smaller, locally-sustainable facilities.

There is certainly a trend towards the construction of large – maybe too large – WtE facilities, which promise better economies of scale and greater return on investment. As we saw recently with Tata’s planned Cheshire facility, one objection raised is the inability of such large sites to survive just using local waste, whether in RDF or unprocessed form.

The export tax idea raises a couple of interesting issues, however. Firstly, it should be noted that this isn’t remotely what the government appears minded to introduce. Secondly, in regards to waste and, by extension, RDF as a problem to be dealt with, rather than a commodity with value. RDF exports are presumably profitable for the companies exporting them, and a worthwhile purchase for the overseas receivers. While an export tax would provide a clear benefit for local operators such as Grundon, it’s hard to see why any government should be keen to explicitly suppress a profitable export trade in this way.

Whatever the details, the broad direction of travel seems clear. To mix a metaphor, the UK seems to be aiming to move the circular economy up a gear. Where once the incentive was the reduction of landfill to the benefit of WtE and recycling, it is now to be the reduction of landfill and WtE, to the benefit of recycling alone. This may have profound implications for the industry, with smaller CHP-style units replacing the traditional incinerators and even perhaps gasification/pyrolysis technologies. In some ways, we’ve been here before. The UK pioneered waste incineration in the 1800s*, before abandoning it in favour of sanitary landfill in the mid-20th Century, and then re-embracing it in the 2000s in the wake of the landfill tax. So again today, the regulatory environment is not standing still. Planners must be aware of this changing environment and adjust their strategies accordingly.

* for anyone interested in the early history of UK waste incineration, I’d recommend ‘’The incineration of refuse is beautiful’ : Torquay and the introduction of municipal refuse destructors’, by J.F.M. Clark, Cambridge University Press, 2007. You can read it online here.

AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – Netherlands Biogas Plant

Construction of a biogas plant

A new biomethane plant is to be developed as part of a new project for Bio-Energie Veendam.

The facility is expected to be operational in spring 2019, when it will begin to produce biomethane to be delivered to Nedmag’s neighbouring factory.

Continue reading AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – Netherlands Biogas Plant

AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – Spain WtE Plant

Development of a waste management centre

A consortium headed by Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas (FCC) has been awarded a contract for the development of a biomethanisation plant and slag recovery centre at the new waste management centre (WMC) under construction in Zubieta.

Continue reading AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – Spain WtE Plant

AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – China WtE Facility

Development of a 45 MW WtE facility

Last month, it was announced that China Everbright International would be undertaking a new project in Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, for the development of a new waste-to-energy (WtE) facility.

Continue reading AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – China WtE Facility

Global Waste Investment Fact File: New Zealand

The next country up next in our series of Global Waste Investment Fact Files is the New Zealand edition. As of February 2018, AcuComm was listing 18 projects in the country. These have a total value of US$404 million or US$22 million each.

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Continue reading Global Waste Investment Fact File: New Zealand

AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – China WtE Facility

Construction of a 1,500 tpd WtE facility

Earlier this month, it was revealed that China Everbright International will be undertaking a new project to build and operate a waste-to-energy (WtE) facility in Jiangsu Province.

Continue reading AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – China WtE Facility