In a recently released report, The Role of Energy from Waste in a Circular Economy: Creating a stable project structure, the Australian Industrial Ecology Network (AIEN) urges State Governments, the resource recovery industry and all stakeholders to find a unified voice on the issue of Energy from Waste (EfW) in Australia, and its importance in the context of a circular economy.

Chair of the AIEN, Colin Barker, and the AIEN Board believe the implementation of EfW in the Australian framework should be streamlined, so that each State acts in accordance with a nationally developed policy framework.

“We recognise and acknowledge the hard work of each State Government (thus far) in preparing a response to the EfW opportunity by issuing public consultation drafts for their respective EfW guidelines.

“However, what we find difficult to accept, is that in spite the myriad of issues currently surrounding the management of waste and resource recovery in this country, our regulators still cannot approach this potentially ‘brand new to Australia’ industry with a view towards a standard Australia-wide approach,” said Mr Barker.

EfW or Waste to Energy (WtE), is a term that is used to describe various technologies that convert non-recyclable waste into usable forms of energy including heat and electricity, as well as liquid and gaseous fuels.

The term WtE is commonly used in specific reference to incineration which burns completely combusted waste at ultra-high temperatures allowing for energy recovery. Modern incineration facilities use pollution control equipment to prevent the release of emissions into the environment.

Within the concept of a circular economy, the AIEN recognises the need for recovery of materials prior to assessing opportunities for EfW technologies, with already well-established and emerging processes and supply chains available for the recycling/reuse of mixed plastics, rubber, glass, timber and aggregates – among others – as valuable resources in higher value-added product markets.

“The AIEN endorses the concept of Highest Net Resource Value (HNRV) as worthy of detailed consideration and promotion. It is a concept enshrined within the waste hierarchy, but with a more tangible and measurable output,” commented Mr Barker.

HNRV reflects an approach that seeks to achieve or retain the highest possible resource value from the materials under consideration, ‘net’ of the cost and effort to achieve such an outcome. The waste hierarchy is normally presented only in the context of environmental/social good. The AIEN, however, has re-imagined the waste hierarchy as representing the notional value applied to a given ‘resource’.

“Any failure to properly consider the importance of the waste hierarchy and HNRV principles may result in losses in the long term through stranded investment.

“When resource or material availability becomes a constraint, resources will always flow to those who can afford to pay the most for them,” said Mr Barker.

In its report, the AIEN sets out a number of recommendations in relation to the requisite ‘five pillars’ for success for an EfW project in Australia.  The five pillars are:

  • Host/Facility/Site (H/F/S)
  • Resources/Feedstock
  • Technology(s)
  • Off-Take Agreements
  • Funding

“Failure to ensure that appropriately developed and defined strategies are established for each of these five pillars, during – and for each sequential stage of the multi-stage project development process – could be catastrophic for any project, running the risk of effects from the commonplace phenomenon often described by the proverbial ‘Fire-Ready-Aim’”, concluded Mr Barker.

To download the report The Role of Energy from Waste in a Circular Economy: Creating a stable project structure click here.