The waste sector heats up: the role of pyrolysis

This week I thought I’d take a look at pyrolysis and its role in the waste sector. The technology is not new; essentially involving the deconstruction of waste or other matter through very high temperatures. While the overall numbers are small, it’s one of the more cutting-edge areas of waste management technology, with various patented approaches being developed. The following refers to projects in the AcuComm database where we can identify use of pyrolysis technology in some form. Related technologies such as gasification are not included.

AcuComm currently lists 90 projects which involve pyrolysis. The majority are not yet operational, however. Of the 90, 18 are either known to be on-hold or of uncertain status in some way. Only 23 are currently known to be operational, equal to 26% of the total. Interestingly, that percentage drops to 12% in terms of project value, suggesting that most of the operational activity to date is in smaller pilot projects.


Pyrolysis projects cut across a number of AcuComm’s facility type categories. The bulk involve general disposal of waste. One example is a new clinical waste disposal facility in Avonmouth, near Bristol, UK, which went into operation in July 2018.

Recycling is also significant, particularly of rubber or plastics. A recent example is a planned plastics recycling plant in Perth, Scotland. Recycling Technologies Ltd plans to use its RT7000 pyrolysis technology to turn waste plastics into oil form, which can then be used to make new plastic projects. The site is relatively small, with capacity for 7,000 tonnes of waste plastic per year, but is expected to be operational by the end of 2019. A pilot plant is already operating in Swindon, Wiltshire.

The largest number of pyrolysis projects are to be found in the USA and UK, which between them account for 29 active projects, equal to 40% of the total. If only operational plants are considered, the USA has five, followed by the UK with three, and Australia, Germany and Spain with two apiece.

While other countries lack this mass of projects, significant potential investments can be found around the globe. One example is New Zealand, where the government issued a grant in 2017 for a pilot project for the disposal of used tyres through pyrolysis. This is currently ongoing, although its precise status is unclear. Additionally, a proposed WtE plant in Huntly, New Zealand, may also include some form of pyrolysis capacity. It is far from certain whether this will ever be built, although that has more to do with a general resistance to WtE plants in New Zealand rather than any specific objections to pyrolysis.

AcuComm lists around 98 companies (classified as operators, contractors or equipment suppliers) involved with pyrolysis projects. The USA is home to 29 of these, followed by 11 in the UK and 10 in Germany.


AcuComm subscribers can easily explore and download the full data held on all these pyrolysis projects, including details on the companies involved, here.

How do they recycle in New Jersey?

A couple of times recently I’ve touched on the issue of definitions in the waste industry, and how things might not always be how they initially seem. In the US, the New Jersey state legislature recently passed a new bill to deal with the state’s food waste. Under it, any establishment generating more than 52 tonnes of food waste per year will have to send this waste to an ‘authorised food waste recycling facility’. The only exception would be if the waste generator is not within 25 miles of such a facility.

The above probably conjures up images of anaerobic digesters and the like, and indeed these do form one type of authorised recycling facility. However, the legislation also mandates other types of disposal. Landfill sites are also acceptable, as long as they have gas collection facilities for the purpose of electricity generation. Also included are waste incineration facilities, with the proviso that these begin using anaerobic digestion methods within four years. Here then is another great example of the problem of defining anything in the waste industry, where New Jersey has created an extremely wide definition of ‘recycling’ indeed.

Whatever their merits, it’s unlikely that either landfill or incineration would be high on most people’s list when it comes to recycling. Indeed, recycling campaigners have criticised the bill for failing to promote recycling, in favour of established methods of waste disposal. Why the dispensation for incineration in the bill, given that it isn’t widely-adopted in the US? Well, New Jersey is one of the few US states to make much of WtE incineration; Covanta has its headquarters in the state and operates three WtE facilities there, at Camden, Newark and North Rahway. None of these currently operate anaerobic digestion facilities.

In the case of landfill, these sites are publicly-operated in New Jersey, and there seems to be a reluctance to lose tonnage throughput. This is quite the opposite of the situation in Western Europe or China, where landfills are either full and/or being phased out. Is landfill a better alternative to AD/biogas when dealing with food and other organic waste? I don’t think it’s an argument you will hear made in the UK or Europe. Maybe things just are different in the US, which has plenty of open space for landfill.

AcuComm currently lists 17 active waste sector projects in New Jersey. These are worth a total estimated US$846 million, or US$50 million each. Seven of these, valued at US$172 million, are principally classed as recycling. AcuComm classes WtE and landfill separately! These account for 16% and 6% of new project investment respectively, since 2013. Check all the projects out here.


Recycling Round-Up

Of late, plastics recycling has rightly taken centre stage in the attention of the media. But, while the issue of waste plastic has risen to the top of the environmental agenda, it’s far from the only specialist form of recycling to attract industry interest. So I took a look to see what other forms of recycling are rising in prominence, and where. There’s a range of investment in other interesting areas of recycling.

AcuComm currently has 450 active recycling projects which deal with some form of specialised municipal waste. Plastics are in the lead, with 157 projects. These are valued at US$3,076 million, or just under US$20 million each on average.


In second place is metal recycling. AcuComm has 125 of these, valued at US$5,280 million. This makes them larger on average than plastics facilities, at US$42 million apiece. Metal recycling facilities cover a range of activities, from basic automobile recyclers to specialist facilities dealing with recovery of metals and even specific metal types from general waste.

The largest number are in the Americas, principally the USA, where we have 53 projects worth US$1,886 million, or US$36 million on average. There are 43 projects in Europe; Germany is the leading individual country with 12 (US$714 million or US$60 million each), followed by the UK with seven (US$198 million or US$28 million each). There are relatively few projects in Africa, Asia or the Middle East, but some important individual investments occur all over the world. For example, the most recent is a lead recycling facility which opened in Tanzania in April 2019.

Also of interest is the related field of e-waste recycling. The AcuComm database contains 65 active e-waste projects in 26 countries. These are worth US$1,069 million in total, or US$16 million on average. As for metals, the largest number are in the USA at 22, followed by the UK with six and the UAE with three. The newest is in Belgium, where a proposed plant for the development of a plant for recycling technical polymers from e-waste received public funding in May 2019.

Next is rubber. AcuComm lists 44 rubber recycling plants, worth a total of US$1,050 million or US$24 million each. Again, most are in the Americas or Europe. These deal almost exclusively with the recycling of used automobile tyres. The most recent is a proposed facility in Queensland, Australia, which will have capacity to process 700,000 car and truck tyres a year.

AcuComm currently lists 29 paper recycling projects, worth US$1,599 million in total. Some of these are relatively large, making for an average of US$55 million. Again, the USA predominates with ten projects, followed by the UK with five. The most recent new project is a paper recycling system in Oslo, Norway, due to open in 2019.

Finally, glass recycling accounts for 30 projects, worth US$452 million. This is equal to a relatively low US$15 million on average; this is largely attributable to several projects in our database which comprise small upgrades to existing facilities. Around half of glass recycling projects are in the USA or the UK.

SUEZ secures Greater Manchester contract

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has announced that following a year-long procurement process to secure new operating contracts for the Greater Manchester waste and resources management services, the preferred tenderer for both of the lots being awarded is SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK Ltd. The contract is one of the largest of its kind in the UK, involving the handling of waste collected from approximately 1.2 million households.

Lot 1 includes the operation of five residual waste facilities, nine Household Waste Recycling Centres, eight Transfer Loading Stations, the Bolton Thermal Recovery Facility, a Materials Recovery Facility, the obligation to produce refuse-derived fuel and associated rail transport and supply to the Runcorn Energy Recovery Facility.

Lot 2 includes the operation of eleven standalone Household Waste Recycling Centres that are located on sites separate to the main waste treatment facilities. The decision was made to separate the contract into lots to generate a competitive market response.

There will now be a mobilisation period so the current contractor; Viridor (Greater Manchester) Ltd can hand over the operation of all the facilities to SUEZ. The new contracts will commence on Saturday 1st June 2019. Existing staff working at the sites will transfer over to SUEZ.

SUEZ beat off competition from Veolia for the contract, after Viridor withdrew from the procurement process, citing commercial reasons and its intention to focus on other market opportunities.

Viridor’s other, separate agreement with the GMCA is unaffected and continues as normal. This is a 25-year contract to process residual waste at the Runcorn Energy Recovery Facility, which has 16 years more to run, with an option to extend for a further 15 years.

A third lot, for biowaste services, was cancelled in October 2018, over uncertainty about the national resources and waste strategy. The GMCA is now looking to secure a contract for a framework of in-vessel composting (IVC) operators capable of receiving 125,000 tonnes per annum of household food and garden waste for treatment and recycling. The GMCA currently utilises IVCs at Bredbury Parkway (Stockport), Salford Road (Bolton) and Trafford Park (Trafford).

Growth in lithium-ion battery recycling

The launch of the US Department of Energy’s first lithium-ion battery recycling centre, called the ReCell Center, signifies the growing importance of this relatively new sector. The use of lithium-ion batteries is growing rapidly, with demand from the electric car industry now adding to consumption by the smart phone and consumer electronics market.

Recycling obviously makes sense from an environmental perspective, but there are commercial imperatives driving interest in lithium-ion battery recycling, such as recovering valuable materials (cobalt and lithium) and guaranteeing the supply chain.

Umicore is one of the pioneers of recycling lithium-ion batteries having provided recycling services since 2006. Today, with an installed capacity of 7,000 tonnes per year, the company’s UHT furnace in Hoboken, Belgium is one of the largest dedicated recycling installations for Li-ion and NiMH batteries in the world.

In 2012, the German Government provided funding for LithoRec II, a research project for recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles and by the end of 2015 a pilot plant had been put into operation. Today, a commercial-scale recycling plant is operated by Duesenfeld GmbH in Wendeburg.

The Hoboken and Wundeburg facilities suggest that Europe has been at the forefront of this sector, with the rest of the world now playing catch-up. AcuComm’s WasteView Projects database holds details of ten lithium-ion battery recycling projects covered since 2013, including plants in Australia, Canada, China, Japan and the US (see map).

lithium batteries

Written by Ian Taylor, Senior Editor & Research Consultant.

Global Waste Investment Fact File: Austria

Next up in our Global Waste Investment Fact File series, we shift the focus to Austria and look into 23 waste projects in the country. These have a total value of US$701 million.


Key points from this Fact File

  • Incineration (with energy recovery) is the leading project type, accounting for US$544 million or 78% of the total. This is followed by biogas, accounting for US$101 million or 14% of the total.
  • The total estimated capacity of these projects is 2.9 million tonnes. This is equal to 127,141 tonnes per project on average and 59% of Austria’s annual waste generation.
  • Waste investments totalling US$257 million are expected to become operational over the next few years. This is currently expected to peak in 2020 at US$158 million.
Download this Fact File.

View the full list of projects in Austria covered by AcuComm.

#Editor’sPick – WtE & Biomass Facilities

UK – WtE Facility

Development of a 49.5 MW WtE facility

A Notice of Decision has been issued by North East Lincolnshire Council following the approval of a new waste-to-energy (WtE) project in Immingham.

The facility is being developed by North Beck Energy, who plan to process up to 500,000 tonnes of household and commercial waste each year.

Construction could begin in the next 12 months, with completion expected three years after.

See the latest from this project.

South Korea – Biomass Plant

Construction of a 100 MW biomass plant

Sumitomo SHI FW (SFW) will be undertaking the design and supply of a new 100 MW biomass plant in Gunsan City.

The contract includes a circulating fluidised bed (CFB) steam generator, which will burn around 400,000 tonnes of wood pellets each year.

Find out more about this project.

AcuComm’s Daily Full Access Project – Netherlands Recycling Plant

Development of a plastics up-cycling facility

Last month, Ioniqa announced that it will be building its first PET plastic up-cycling factory in Geleen. It will produce high-grade, pure PET raw material, which will be used to make new food packaging.

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