From Landfill to Energy: Redefining Baseload Power Sources

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From Landfill to Energy: Redefining Baseload Power Sources

The green movement and climate change have transformed the way consumers think about energy. Customers want to know where their power comes from, and the energy sector has had to become more sustainably-minded. Along with added pressure from the global energy community and public opinion, government emissions targets reflect this shift in awareness. “The Asia energy sector has a goal to generate 23-35% of power through Renewable Energy sources by 2025. That’s a very aggressive goal, and biomass must be a key piece of the solution, because as you look at generation, wind and solar alone cannot meet Asia’s energy needs. Biomass and waste-to-energy (WTE) as renewable sources should be included in energy goals for Asia,” said Brandy Johnson, Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) Vice President, Global Projects. 

As more power producers move to more environmentally sound, cleaner options for generating baseload power, WTE, biomass, and storage have gained traction as solutions to energy challenges, with WTE having the added benefit of reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. According to a new market study published by Global Industry Analysts Inc., US$415.5 Million is forecasted to be invested by the year 2026 in advanced biological techniques in the Asia-Pacific region. Methods are being developed to turn waste into clean-burning bio-fuels and gases. WTE projects can be a first-rate investment as well, especially in locations where at least 500 tonnes of waste is generated per day, and the treatment price is over $21 per tonne. “With the high electricity price, along with the fee for waste treatment, a waste-to-energy project only needs around five years to break even, whereas it takes 10 years for solar and wind power plants (to do the same),” Đồng Minh Toàn, Chairman and CEO of Bình Phước Import Export Company, said.

The market for waste-to-energy projects and other clean energy solutions is forecasted to grow dramatically, but how will WTE, biomass, and storage best serve the ASEAN energy transition?

Rubbish to Clean Energy

When we look at the waste management challenges throughout ASEAN, it is clear applying WTE could be an important tool to manage the increasing need in the power supply chain and waste removal in a single solution. Countries such as Thailand are backing WTE projects mainly to reduce the negative impact of municipal waste on communities, with the bonus of additional power as an upshot. According to the Thailand Environment Institute (TEI), just 39% of the country’s garbage ends up in a landfill, while 26% is scattered in rivers, the ocean, and open land outside of landfills. For a country drowning in plastics and other waste, this is eye-opening.

“All sides should primarily focus on getting rid of garbage and view electricity as a (beneficial) by-product,” said Wijarn Simachaya, TEI President. Thailand has also established the Alternative Energy Development Plan (AEDP 2015-2036), which includes community engagement within the process of waste gathering to WTE conversion.  

B&W’s Brandy Johnson said that countries and companies in places such as China, Australia, Thailand, Taiwan, and Vietnam have expressed interest in WTE solutions as ways to simultaneously reduce the environmental impact of waste, reduce reliance on landfills and generate power. “By diverting waste from landfills and using it to generate power, you can also significantly reduce the amount of land used for landfilling, which protects the environment and reduces the potential for water pollution from runoff from landfills,” Johnson said.

WTE also helps to reduce emissions of methane, the potent greenhouse gas created by the decomposition of organic waste that ends up in landfill. “If you look at the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane has roughly 84 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide on a 20-year basis. That’s significant. We’re trying to reduce the waste that goes to the landfills and reduce the overall global warming potential created by that waste,” she said. It is also possible to capture or eliminate pollutants from waste, including volatile organic compounds, lead, mercury, halogens, and other contaminants. Incorporating WTE in the energy mix is both a logical and environmentally sound decision. 

Generating Sustainable Baseload Power with Alternative Resources

Approximately 110 countries have committed to generating fully carbon-neutral energy by 2050, but how will this translate to the ASEAN power industry, and what are the best ways to circumvent or limit greenhouse gas emissions in the region? “As we move into a world where we look at renewable power generation, most power producers will eventually move away from coal. But the reality is that you have to replace some of that baseload generation, and waste-to-energy is an effective, sustainable, and environmentally sound way to do that,” Johnson said.

Countries will need to replace their existing baseload generation with a sustainable, renewable power source, and this source may vary from region to region. Biomass combustion is another alternative to consider. The popularity of using biomass for clean energy production has increased in Asia and elsewhere, but ensuring enough power is generated while meeting carbon-neutral goals will still require a combination of biomass and other power sources. The way in which certain types of energy sources can be applied to microgrids should also be managed.

“I think a mix of waste-to-energy and biomass solutions will help the ASEAN region address many of these challenges. These fuels are readily available and can be used to affordably generate clean power to replace fuels like coal, oil, and gas,” Johnson said. “It’s also important to have long-term and short-term energy storage to help stabilize the grid, especially for the smaller microgrid areas. So it’s really not just one solution but actually an “all of the above” strategy that will be required to achieve energy goals.”

B&W recently announced its ClimateBrightTM decarbonisation technologies platform, which includes solutions and technologies that can be added to existing plants and new-build projects to help combat the challenges of carbon dioxide reduction and decarbonisation that many ASEAN countries are facing. Each technology in the suite of solutions (BrightLoopTM, SolveBrightTM, OxyBrightTM, and BrightGenTM) offers novel solutions for capturing CO2, producing power without creating CO2, and producing and using hydrogen as a fuel. The benefits from applications such as these, and with the addition of base loading with biomass and WTE, the ASEAN energy transition could accelerate rapidly and effectively.

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There are significant challenges in the ASEAN energy sector, especially in some of the more underserved countries. However, Johnson said she is encouraged by the progress to date and by the decisive nature of some countries that are making significant decisions that will continue to have positive environmental impact decades into the future. “B&W’s focus for the Asia-Pacific region includes upgrades, parts, equipment, and services to our customers in any of our markets, including the renewable, environmental, and thermal power, and industrial sectors. We’re also looking at the underserviced, local markets and putting resources in these locations to support them,” she said.

“There is a significant interest in Asia for not only the traditional thermal plants, but also renewable energy. We’re excited to support those markets and our customers, and to help the region move toward reducing reliance on landfills and decreasing production of greenhouse gases,” Johnson said.

ASEAN countries will need to diversify resources and receive support from various policymakers and energy facilitators to ensure carbon emission targets are met. The ASEAN energy transition has begun, and proven technologies like those offered by Babcock & Wilcox – including waste-to-energy, biomass energy, ClimateBright decarbonisation, and energy storage solutions will play a key role in this important challenge for our industry.

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