Let's speak about Waste To Energy...

Since I joined ISWA, almost 13 years ago, one of the best things that ISWA offered me is the opportunity to meet some guys like the one who is interviewed today, Mr. Hakan Rylander, CEO of the SYSAV Company Group. I would say that SYSAV is a role model company in WtE so I consider a visit to its web-site (www.sysav.se) as a very intersting one.

Hakan is my good friend and one of the guys that I really admire - sometimes I wish to become like him when I grow up and become more mature. For the time being I appreciate both his straight forward way as well as the fact that he is the type of "better do it than say it". As for his know-how, he is one of the most experienced WtE engineers I know, involved in all different phases and aspects of a WtE facility. 

 Besides being ISWA's president between 1996-98, Hakan has held many other key-positions e.g. Chairman of the ISWA WtE Working Group, Swedish Representative in the Nordic Association of Waste ManagementChairman of the Scania Society of EngineersCurrently Hakan is also running the R&D Committee of Avfall Sverige. So here comes his interview, I am sure you will enjoy it. Hakan, thanks a lot for your thoughtful answers...

 “Hakan, you are working for 40 years in the waste management industry and you have passed from several crucial positions, including your ISWA presidency few years ago. So I would say that for me and   my readers this a perfect opportunity to utilize your broad experience and address some key-issues that are discussed worldwide. So let's start with your operational experiences running one of the best incinerators in Europe. What were the most difficult problems you faced?

I have actually been running two large waste-to-energy plants, one in Gothenburg between 1993-96 and now the large one here at Sysav in Malmö.  Both plants are working in an excellent way, where we in both cases focused on a “conservative” concept, with a well established and proven technology, with steam figures of 400 degrees centigrade and 40 bars to minimize the risk for corrosion. Let us focus on the Sysav-plant, which I know the best today. When building the two new furnaces we put a lot of effort and time on the specification of requirements to be fulfilled by the suppliers, with a high accessibility, a high reliability and a plant easy to maintain. We also looked for the best and reliable flue gas cleaning system to be able to meet with all emission directives on a European and National level with a very good and safe margin in order to avoid all anxiety from the public and the neighbours of the plant. And of course, to an acceptable and low price. The big challenge was to "marry" the three big suppliers of boiler, flue gas cleaning and turboset so the deliveries fitted in time to each other and so we could handle the strong wind of southern Sweden when doing the high-raised installations.I think we managed very well in our efforts.

We have permission to incinerate 550 000 tons annually and during the last years we have been incinerating around 549 000 tons annually, we don´t cool off any heat at all. All produced energy is utilized as heat and electricity. The maintenance works as planned, taking place in the summer time when there is a low demand for heat. The emissions are far below the permitted levels. The big challenge when constructing and buying the new furnaces was to get an efficient, reliable plant to an acceptable price and we managed. Our gate fee is very competitive.

We didn´t have any problems with the public opinion when building the two last furnaces. The big problems came up already in 1973 when building the first two furnaces. There had never been any waste-to-energy plants in the Malmö-region before that and the plans and the building of a waste incineration plant caused a lot of objections and discussions from the public, NGOs and neighbours. Finally, Sysav got the permission and after that we have not had any problems. That is due to the very good results we have achieved in producing and delivering heat to the district heating system of Malmö and the very low emissions from the plant. When asking for permission for the two new furnaces we had an excellent reference in the two old ones. We have also all the time been very open in our information about the operation and the results we have achieved. We also invite people to visit our plant to see what actually happens and take place in a waste-to-energy plant.

To be successful when working with the public opinion I am completely convinced that you have to have an early, very honest and open dialogue with them. Don´t try to “hide” anything. Invite them to participate in the process and keep them informed. Present good references.

So what is the role of an incinerator in an integrated waste management system? Is it in competition with recycling or no?

Sysav WtE Plant
The answer is very easy to be given. There is no competition at all between recycling of materials and waste-to-energy, on the contrary the two methods complement each other.
The waste problem can´t be solved by using one method, you have to use them all – reuse, recycling, biological treatment, waste-to-energy and landfilling – in accordance with the EU Hierarchy.
Within Sysav we are working with all these methods. Last year we received 903 000 tons of different kinds of waste, 98% were recycled as materials and energy, only 2% was landfilled (22 000 tons). Less than 1% of the household waste was landfilled. We have by working in this way prolonging the remaining life time of our landfills with about 30 years. I have very strongly during the years believed that this is the correct way of dealing with waste as long as it exists, and I think the Sysav-results proof that it is a successful way.

Is incineration applicable to developing countries? Which are the conditions for a success?

Incineration should not be the first option in developing countries. It must start with a well managed landfill with methane gas recovery, material recycling with source separation and biological treatment of food waste with production of biogas and a bio-fertilizer. Such a concept would be the best for the environment and for the climate. With the present technolgy within waste incineration a lot of heat has to be cooled off in developing countries. You can of course produce electricity with higher effiecency in comparison with recovering heat as well as electricity as we do in the Nordic countries, but still a lot of heat is cooled away. The situation will improve significantly if you have a neighbouring industry or any other big activity/business with a demand for steam or heat.

Technically speaking, what can we expect from the technology in terms of improvements?

The big technical challenges with the present technology are today three and where we will improve:

- to reduce and minimize the amount of bottom ash. After the waste-to-energy process there still is about 20% of bottom ash as a residue. That means that there still is too much of unburnable waste coming to the waste-to-energy plants. We have to significantly reduce that amount to be more efficient in recovering energy and minimize the environmental problems of the residues.

- to develop a safe and environmentally correct way of final handling of the flue gas cleaning residues and to recover as much as technical and economically possible of the metal content in these residues and in the bottom ash

- to increase the electrical efficiency in the waste-to-energy plants. With high prices for electricity the power production should increase. Based upon some successful cases from some new European waste-to-energy plants. I would not hesitate to increase the steam figures above 400 degrees and 40 bars when building a new plant.

Last but not least, in a recent discussion I heard, probably for the 100th time in last two years, that incineration is dead and that gasification and plasma pyrolysis will soon substitute all incineration plants. What is the current status of those technologies? Are they applicable for Mixed MSW? Are there commercial applications and operational experiences? After all,  is it something we can trust?
6.      A lot of people say they are promising and they are more environmental friendly than incineration...

Sysav WtE Plant 
Well, I guess I have heard the same thing at least as many times as you Antonis. 

I remember when I joined the business in the 1970-ies that there was a big belief that gasification, pyrolysis and the plasma technology would be the “salvation” of the waste problem. A number of companies introduced gasification and pyrolysis technologies, just slightly different from each other. All the different methods had worked in a very good way when testing them in a small scale, feeding the reactors with a small, very well prepared amount of waste each time. The problems came when scaling up the technology. 

A number of plants were built in Europe and a number of efforts were done to successfully scale up the technology. However, it didn´t work anywhere unless you had a very very homogenous input of fuel to the reactors. Waste is not a homogenous fuel. It has so far turned out to be too heterogenous to be able to treat in a gasification or pyrolysis process, irrespective of how you pre-treat the waste. It is absolutely not applicable for mixed MSW with today's technology. Another very negative factor is that the energy balance very often has turned out to be negative.

It would, from an environmentally point of view, be an excellent method if it worked, with low emissions and with a very small and environmentally safe residue, but unfortunately the situation today and the experiences are the same today as almost 40 years ago, even if there have been and still are efforts to introduce gasification and pyrolysis on the market.

When planning for the two new furnaces in the Sysav-plant there were proposals and some efforts that we should change from conventional grate incineration to gasification. I said absolutely “No”, but to be fair to those who believed that gasification was the best technology we decided to carry out a study and a comparison between the two technologies. The answer was very clear: gasification would result in a negative energy balance. I am happy to say that we made the right decision, our results and experiences from the grate technology gives the answer.

I absolutely don´t want to be negative, it would be fantastic if the gasification and pyrolysis technology will develop in such a way that you can use it for MSW , with a clear positive energy balance and working in a safe way for those working at the plant.

I remember when I as a young person in the waste business, full of belief in new methods and technologies, in the middle 1970-ies participated in a very good conference in Antwerp about waste management. There was a whole session about gasification and pyrolysis and I was full of enthusiasm, expecting a lot from the different presentations. On the way in to the conference room I walked beside an older gentleman and colleague from Germany. I told him about my expectations and he looked very friendly upon me telling me that he had started to work with R&D within waste management already in 1922 at the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt, and the task was to gasify/pyrolyse waste in a better way than could be done in a waste incineration plant. He told me that they without any success had been trying to do so and that he still had very little faith gasification/pyrolysis could be developed and turn out to be a successful technology for waste. 

I was of course very disappointed to hear this, but still believed it was the technology for the future handling of waste. The bad experiences coming up very soon after that conference and all the failures and unsuccessful efforts since then has made me very skeptical.

Unfortunately, I believe there is a long way still to go, but we shouldn´t give up our efforts."


Coming back from Haiti

Sometimes photos say as much as thousands words. Here are some photos form Port Au Prince, the capital of Haiti. I uploaded not the worst as I saw in Port Au Prince and not the best of course.
As IDB colleagues told me, a lot of the disaster waste has been removed and the situation in collection of waste and cleaning - beautification of the city has been recently improved.
However, despite recent imrpovements, the situation remains very risky for the public health and it seems that there is no easy way out, due to several political, insitutional and of course  economic - financial barriers.

 The conditions I met in Port Au Prince, an urban complex of more or less 2,5 million people, are probably better that the rest of the country, while some other cities like Cap-Haitien and Gonaives are facing much more serious waste collection and disposal problems.

Scavenging, as it is obvious at the photos, is an activtity for thousands people in Port of Prince, not only around the landfill but also in many small and bigger waste disposal points within and around the city.

 However, plastic bottles are almost 100% recycled, due to a local industrial firm which has developed a relevant technology.

The same is true for the plastics and metal pieces that are found within the debris waste. It is supposed that within next 6-10 months all the debris waste will have been removed, although the standards for their current disposal are not always suitable. Soon I will have more information about it.
Last but not least, it seems that the main problem related waste management is a cohesive strategic approach that will unify all the involved parties (goverments, donors, banks, NGOs etc.). Although IDB has started a valuable project to rearrange waste collection, provide institutional development and radically imporved waste disposal with a new sanitary landfill, several local conflicts and controversial strategies create at least barriers and serious delays.

Next days I will write more details about the Troutier dumpsite and the informal sector there. Until then, I ask everyone to think more about it. Can we do something for Haiti? Can we support a waste management change? And how this could be done? 


Going to Haiti

On my way to Haiti, changing one airplane after another, I was obliged to stop thinking my usual activities and focus to a usually forgotten reality.

According Wikipedia, with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimate of US$6.56 billion in 2009, Haiti is routinely regarded as one of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere. Based on estimates by the World Bank in 2005, the percentage of people living below the US$1 per day poverty line in Haiti is 54%, and the percentage of people living below US$2 per day is at 78%!

Trying to understand the situation in the country, I discovered that it has the world’s lowest electricity coverage, just a little bit above 12%! And the high Infant Mortality Rate of 64 deaths per 1000 live births is a result of the poor healthcare system, and the lack of a well-planned education system is the cause of low literacy rates (45%) in the country.
And regarding waste management, the situation is maybe even worst. The current waste management system includes collection of maximum 35% of waste generated. The rest is left in the streets where it is usually burned.
In Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital and major urban centre, the inefficiency of the solid waste management system represents a critical risk to public health. The current solid waste management system has never been fully integrated into the metropolitan public services system; instead, it is characterized by a high level of institutional instability, poor governance, limited human and financial capacity, and improper solid waste-disposal practices by urban communities. Moreover, the 7.3 earthquake that shook the capital city on January 12 of 2010 and destroyed over a quarter million homes and businesses has further compromised an already strained formal and informal waste management sector. And of course it left more or less 20.000.000 tons of debris waste that are still waiting to be managed.
Well, going to Haiti, just before my airplane will be landing, I realize once more that what is called Poverty Trap is very real and very strong and it concerns more or less 50% of the planet’s population.
I am also feeling deeply in my heart that the Poverty Trap and the Environmental Degradation (what a nice scientific phrase we use to describe the daily misery of living within any kind of waste, without access to clean water and elementary sanitation rules) will never be separated. As long as the Trap exists, it is further reinforced by Environmental Degradation and vice-versa.
But there is something more. Does anyone from the western world thinks or speaks about the situation in Haiti today? Does any NGO campaign for it? Or the countries trapped at the Poverty Trap simply do not provide business opportunities, not even for NGOs, so there is no reason to campaign about them?
I am thinking much more but I will write them after some days, as soon as I will have finished my trip to Haiti and I will have a much better idea about it.
Until then, please do not forget that if we leave Haiti alone, it will never be able to escape the Trap.