Energy from waste technology - the multibillion-dollar opportunity taking root in Australia
Energy from Waste (EfW) is a growing market in Australia. Currently, up to 80% of the thermal WtE/EfW plants globally are in Japan, Germany and the US.
Last year, in the Australian electricity market, 76% of the total electricity generation came from fossil fuels, with black coal alone accounting for 54% of the mix, and the other 22% coming from other sources such as brown coal, oil, and gas. Nearly a quarter of the electricity generated in Australia came from renewable sources in 2020 and this is expected to increase further.
The challenge of meeting net zero greenhouse emissions in Australia by 2050 will need to involve new sources of energy such as nuclear and hydrogen to provide dispatchable power. The use of waste to energy is also part of the mix.
EfW technology is well established in industrial applications in Australia, and now it is emerging as a key component of municipal resource recovery strategies. The 2018 National Waste Policy, places the focus nationwide on a circular economy to minimise the waste of resources. Avoidance, reuse and energy recovery have come into focus. Landfilling of the residual wastestream in landfills engineered to best practice allows Landfill gas (LFG) to be extracted and used in gas turbines to generate electricity.
Image: The Visy Kraft Pulp Paper Mill in Tumut, NSW
EfW technology combusts wastes at extremely high temperatures in a combustor/gasifier to generate steam, which then passes to a turbine to create electricity. Efw reduces greenhouse gas emissions and diverts waste from landfill.
In the private sector, corporations such as Visy have constructed EfW plants as an inherent part of their operation to combust waste to generate steam for use in the process and to generate electricity. The Visy Kraft Pulp Paper Mill, located in Tumut, New South Wales (NSW), processed 2.2 million tonnes of waste last year and created an estimated 20 MW of energy. Process waste, refuse-derived fuel and forest residues are feedstocks to a multi-fuel fired combuster.
The average Australian generates 2.7 tonnes of waste every year. Efw technology utilizes resources from wastestreams however not all waste can be processed. Non-combustible and non-recyclable waste is disposed of to landfills. State governments, as a result, have adopted initiatives to promote policies that aim to reduce waste and foster resource recovery.
In Victoria, it is estimated that by 2046 the state will produce 40% more waste than it did in 2017-18. The Victorian Government has released its Recycling Victoria Policy in 2020 to address this challenging forecast and improve the state’s recycling system. The policy incorporates almost $100 million in funding to strengthen Victoria’s waste industry. A new container deposit scheme and 4-bin waste and recycling system is proposed. Sustainability Victoria, as a result of the introduction of this policy, is to update its Statewide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan (SWRRIP), the Victorian Government’s 30-year plan first introduced in 2015 to upgrade the state’s waste and recycling infrastructure. This involves an integrated system with the objective of sending less waste to landfill, conserve raw materials, reprocess and promote the use of recycled materials.
In NSW, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has recently updated its Energy from Waste Policy Statement. This is an initiative to support increased investment in energy from waste infrastructure and deliver regulatory certainty to industry. The EfW policy regulates new purpose-built and existing facilities and is the NSW government’s primary policy to govern assessment of EfW proposals.
The policy also supports NSW’s Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Act 2001 (WARR Act), and has the objective of ensuring that waste is managed through avoidance, reuse, recycling and energy recovery. The Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041 considers strategic planning needs for energy from waste infrastructure to maximise waste innovation, management, and energy recovery.
At Peter J Ramsay & Associates, we have successfully assisted manufacturing clients with environmental approvals, impact assessments and permitting necessary for EfW facilities projects. The future is bright for the EfW energy sector, and we anticipate that this is an area which will continue to grow and innovate.
Authors Victor Hong and Peter Ramsay
For further information, please contact Victor Hong, Nathan Williams or Peter Ramsay on (03)96900522) or visit www.pjra.com.au.