Where there’s Muck…

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– By John Boley

… There’s brass. Any of you with ancestors from Yorkshire will recognise that expression. And, says Peter Dyson of Moltoni Energy, it really is true. For example, the garbage in the bin outside your home can provide 14 percent of your electricity needs. Municipal solid waste (MSW) is an energy resource so far ignored in Australia that could be a win-win solution to much of the nation’s energy and emission-reduction needs. It’s carbon tax time, don’t forget.

Moltoni Energy is dedicated to developing alternative, renewable energy which will deliver an enhanced and sustainable quality of life for all. The company claims that waste to energy (WTE) plants, unlike solar and wind energy generation, are “a unique source of base load (continuous) renewable energy generation. By integrating the disposal of waste with the generation of energy, waste to energy plants provide an integrated solution to two of society’s greatest challenges: waste disposal and energy supply, with a minimal greenhouse gas footprint relative to current landfill and landfill to energy practices. With more than 900 thermal waste to energy plants worldwide, there is no doubt that such aspirations are not only achievable but demonstrable in practice.”

Moltoni Energy is associated with one of the world’s leading thermal waste to energy technology providers, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Environmental & Chemical Engineering Co. Ltd. (licence holder for the Martin GmbH grate technology) and is a specialist in delivering sustainable, integrated waste and energy outcomes.

“This technology – WTE in general – is a mature market overseas but in Australia we don’t have any,” says Peter, Moltoni Energy’s managing director. “We are bringing a mature product into an immature market.”

The first reactions, he says, are questions: what’s the need? What’s the performance of such plants like? What’s the long term effect? “Fortunately, with 900-odd reference sites around the world it’s easy enough for people to make their own assessments.”

Most such sites are in Europe, which was always in the forefront of recycling-related progress. When in the 1970s the authorities in Germany managed to gain a consensus to clean up the toxic soup called the Ruhr Valley, home to most of the country’s industry and 20 million people, they set in train a number of programmes, including simple citizen-initiated separation of reclaimable garbage and planned treatment of non-reclaimable muck, that were copied by surrounding countries. A third of the world’s WTE plants are in Germany. Japan now has more than 60 (20-odd in Tokyo alone) and the US and many other nations are catching on and catching up.

According to Peter, China is also embracing the concept and ordering WTE plants at a rate of 15 a year. Indeed, he adds, it appears that Beijing is bent on gaining a superiority in WTE and emissions reductions, having returned from the Copenhagen summit (end 2009) refusing to agree to having its progress monitored by the rest of the world but quietly determined to do it themselves.

So why not here? Peter’s experience is that, once people have access to independent data covering all these reference sites and can see the benefits, “the question rapidly turns round to ‘why are we not doing it?'”

The answer is that “we haven’t had to address the issue until now. In Australia we have been quite happy going along with landfills.” Now, though, he says there is a greater awareness among the public that – if you’ll pardon the phrase – landfills are a waste of good waste. The argument is that we should not be such a throw-away society, we should use what we are producing “to create other outcomes that are more beneficial to the environment and to ourselves.”

We started in Yorkshire. Thermal treatment of muck, which began around the time our ancestors discovered fire, started on a large scale in nearby Nottingham in 1874 (another Pommie saying: “there’s nowt new under t’sun”). From that beginning, plants were built throughout Europe and the US, helping solve the chronic waste issue faced during the Industrial Age, and bringing in the Age of Sanitation. But although these plants helped reduce the amount of waste buried in landfills, they were inefficient, and their outputs were not harnessed to generate renewable energy.

In the 1920s, Josef Martin (of Martin GmbH) invented the ‘reverse-acting grate’ that is based on the premise that fuel ignites more easily when an already existing glowing mass is pushed back underneath it. The concept was developed over time and the grate proved to be the solution to creating efficient combustion of MSW. This system has been in commercial operation since 1959.

Moltoni argues that three major factors are driving the introduction of WTE plants. First is a realisation that landfills are poor performers from an environmental perspective, both in groundwater discharges and methane emissions as well as “locking-up” valuable land space that could be better utilised. It is estimated that WTE plants can reduce the need for landfills by more than 90 percent.

The second factor is that WTE is one of a range of renewable technologies that need to be adopted so Australia meets its renewable energy target of 20 percent by 2020 as set by the RET legislation. It has been estimated that one tonne of MSW processed in a thermal WTE plant rather than landfilled reduces greenhouse gas emissions by approximately one tonne of carbon dioxide; through avoidance of landfill methane gas generation and avoidance of carbon dioxide generation through the recovery of metals and reuse of the ash/slag by-products.

Thirdly, because WTE recovers the calorific value from the waste and converts that to electricity, it reduces reliance on coal-fired power stations, hence adding to our responses to climate change. One tonne of MSW processed in a WTE plant rather than landfilled reduces our energy reliance by one barrel of oil or 0.25 tonne of coal.

Peter says this is “a fascinating area to be involved in” and it’s moving fast. As recently as 18 months ago there was a “mindset – we shouldn’t touch this area, people will get upset about it.  What we have now is the regulators reforming strategies and policies for the future to include WTE as part of the portfolio – that’s how fast it’s going!”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

November 21, 2018, 3:47 AM AEDT