CHANGES in government policy in recent years have created renewed interest in generating energy from waste. Australia is now considered, both domestically and internationally, to be a potential growth market. However, due to the continent’s unique conditions, it is widely understood that this market will develop differently to other parts of the world.

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A panel session during the second AIEN Australian Waste to Energy Forum in Ballarat, Victoria.

The Australian Industrial Ecology Network (AIEN) hosted the 2nd Australian Waste to Energy Forum on February 22 and 23 at the Mercure Ballarat Hotel and Convention Centre, Victoria, Australia. More than 160 delegates came together to explore the future potential for converting ever-increasing supplies of waste into viable energy resources. Diverse occupations were represented ranging from international energy and resource recovery industries, local, state and federal governments, academia, environmental organisations, manufacturers, media companies and individuals simply interested in the topic.

Opening the conference, Sustainability Victoria CEO Stan Krpan said the momentum for Waste-to-Energy technology was the strongest he had seen in the six years he had led the state government body. He believes that increasingly, communities are developing a low tolerance of landfill as a way of dealing with waste, especially municipal solid waste. Stan Krpan says that new processes for recovering resources and deriving higher orders of value from waste are the inevitable answer.

An announcement was released during the conference stating that the Victorian Government had launched a new, $2 million program to support the development of Waste to Energy technologies, including anaerobic digestion and thermal treatment of waste. The ‘Waste to Energy Infrastructure Fund’ will boost sustainable energy production using organic materials and hence divert more waste from landfill. For more information visit www.sustainability.vic.gov.au.

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The forum attracted more than 160 delegates who heard interesting and information presentations from a variety of speakers.

Keynote speaker Dr Darren Perrin from Eunomia Research and Consulting in the UK, challenged the audience to consider why the country might feel it needs waste to energy and the rationale for managing waste more sustainably. He suggested delegates consider the future of conventional and ‘disruptive’ energy sources in Australia, the supply and composition of future waste streams and then ask themselves where is the evidence to support one residual treatment solution versus another?

Darren Perrin also made the fundamental point that strategies for dealing with waste should concentrate on eliminating residual, unrecoverable materials rather than focusing on the supply of waste to generate energy. It is critically important that higher-order uses for recovered materials are not precluded by having to supply an overcapacity of energy generating infrastructure, which would seriously conflict with higher-value waste reduction and recycling measures.

One of the conference highlights was a 90-minute session during which a panel of senior representatives from five state governments and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation discussed issues raised by members of the audience. The aim of the session was to try and gain an understanding of where there was common ground across state borders in relation to developing a coherent set of state guide lines for industry on energy from waste policy.

It became clear that some states are, in fact, collaborating to a limited extent on these issues but so far only informally between individuals rather than on a formal level between departments. As for identifying common ground, not much was revealed, however, it was generally agreed that waste to energy should be regarded as just one component of a fully developed, sustainable policy for recovering resources. Waste to energy should never be regarded as a stand-alone means to an end, in its own right.

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A welcome function prior to the forum was hosted by STEINERT Australia.

The corollary to this policy position, which was also accepted by members of the panel and generally by the audience, is that materials should be recovered for the use that represents the highest possible value feasible at the time of recovery. The only waste that should be considered as feedstock for energy conversion is the residual material from waste sorting and resource recovery processes.

A somewhat surprising revelation during discussion was that the government representatives are agnostic about the selection of technologies for a particular purpose. Whatever technology ‘does the job’ seems to be acceptable provided, of course, that it complies with relevant government regulations. However, there did seem to be a consensus that whatever technology is selected must be supported by operational data spanning at least five years and of course be commercially viable.

A core question raised by the keynote speaker, which reverberated throughout the forum, was what are the key drivers for considering waste to energy? Given the potential for solar, wind and tidal sources of energy, not to mention remaining fossil sources, does Australia actually need to extract energy from waste? Or is the development of related infrastructure nothing more than a waste disposal strategy?

Interestingly, when the issue was debated during the panel session, for example, no clear position emerged from the panellists or indeed, from delegates. It may be that, at this stage in the national debate, the issue turns on ideological considerations as much as any others.

Be that as it may, in closing the conference AIEN chairman Garbis Simonian made his views from an entrepreneurial perspective very clear, saying “Australians are seriously looking at utilising energy from waste that goes into the ‘big hole’ landfill. There’s an energy crisis right now.” He went on to say, “We’re short of gas, electricity – so this is very relevant now. We’ve got to look at all areas to see where we can recover energy.” There can be no doubting the practical wisdom of that approach.


Increased interest in WTE: chairman

The 2017 Australian Waste to Energy Forum was excellent, according to forum chairman Kurt Palmer, from STEINERT Australia, with a noticeable increase in interest and participation. He said there were 104 delegates for the inaugural forum in 2016 and this increased to 161 this year.

There were representatives from throughout the energy, recycling and resource recovery industries as well as various government and environmental bodies. There was also a visible international presence as well.

He attributes the success to development of the market and a successful, interesting and relevant program. “With renewable energy sources being a hot topic in government at the moment, the timing was perfect, and community interest and education continues to grow.”

STEINERT has been a continued supporter of the event, and sees multiple opportunities when considering Waste to Energy (WTE) in Australia. “An active WTE sector increases recovery of valuable resources and the material being used to convert to energy generally requires some form of contamination removal prior to the end process. Both these activities foster investment in sorting technology,” Kurt Palmer said.

Australia has a mature waste collection industry and strong WTE regulations and standards but little in the way of active facilities. It is still very much in the infancy stage and this is probably driven by the fact that for many years Australia has had access to relatively cheap coal and hydroelectricity as well as cheap landfill for waste.

“With the closing of coal-fired power stations and rising landfill costs, WTE will start to become more attractive and more cost effective,” he said.

The 2017 forum has also presented challenges with Kurt Palmer saying that among these was the need for improved communication between government, regulatory and industry bodies.

He says what is needed now is the development of a policy framework. “As a follow on from the first WTE Forum last year, the conversation is gaining momentum and becoming a reality as a real alternative energy source.”

He adds that the WTE topic is also relevant for the mining industry as it provides the potential for reduced energy costs, reduced waste disposal costs and improved environmental footprint.

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