Despite efforts to maximise the prevention, reduction, reuse and recycling of wastes, there will always be significant waste for which these options are not viable. Much of this residual waste is comprised of biomass, derived from plant and animal matter. This is potential fuel that can deliver renewable energy.
In 2010, the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (APSRG) stated that the government needs to adopt 500 new waste facilities in the next ten years in order to successfully recycle, reprocess, treat and dispose of waste and to meet landfill reduction targets.
Increasingly, residual waste needs to be diverted from landfill because:
- The cost of landfill is increasing and likely to be in excess of £100 per tonne in 2014, with landfill tax at £80
- Strict European Union (EU) targets are in place to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfill
- Landfilling of biodegradable waste produces methane (CH4) greenhouse gases.
Waste as an energy resource must be seen in the broader context of energy supply in the UK. It has the potential to be an increasingly important energy source, particularly as old coal-fired and nuclear power stations are decommissioned.
- EfW can help fill the ‘energy gap’. A third of our coal-fired power plants will close by 2015 due to the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive and most of the UK’s nuclear power plants will close by the early 2020's
- EfW helps reduce dependency on energy imports. Due to the decline of North Sea reserves the UK is no longer self-sufficient in oil and gas and is dependent on imports
- EfW helps reduce CO2 emissions, as a significant proportion of the energy content of wastes comprises “biomass” which is carbon neutral
- EfW helps meet the UK’s renewable energy targets and EfW technologies are amongst the cheapest sources of renewable energy
- EfW provides ‘baseload’ power (i.e. it generates electricity steadily and some technologies can vary their output in response to demand). This complements intermittent forms of renewable electricity generation such as wind, wave, tidal and solar power.
“For waste that cannot be prevented, reused or recycled, energy from waste
technologies can provide a valuable resource through heat, electricity and
transport fuels. Energy can be generated from waste through a variety of both
established and emerging technologies such as combustion with combined heat and
power, anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis.”
Chapter Six of the Government’s March 2011 Carbon Plan - Cutting Emissions from Waste
The Government’s Carbon Plan > Carbon Plan .
Under an EU Directive 2000/76/EC, the government in England has to derive 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020. Scotland is aiming for 100% of its demand for electricity to be met from renewables, by 2020. Energy from Waste technologies can make a significant contribution to meeting this target. The Energy from Waste UK coalition has estimated that about 10% of UK energy requirements could be delivered from EfW technologies.