Waste to Energy Industry: Current Business Outlook
Welcome to the Sustainability Nuggets Podcast. I am Rarosue Amaraibi, and I am Tosin Folorunso. On this podcast we learn about sustainability by discussing various related topics while focusing on three pillars; the economy, the society, and the environment. Hi everyone, hello. Welcome to another episode of the waste series on the sustainability nuggets podcast. In this series we have been talking about business opportunities in the waste management
industry and one major area for business opportunities in this industry is waste to energy processes. Rarosue will lead this discussion today because she is well versed in this topic thank you Tosin. So on this episode guys we'll be discussing what exactly the waste energy means um the global market size, why it's important in our world today, the different types of waste energy processes available um the favorable government policies supporting this process and um existing waste energy companies around the world. We will also be touching on opportunities available in the waste energy industry yeah so can you define what waste to energy is about yeah so waste energy is simply a process of energy recovery or you can see it as a technique of generating energy in the form of heat or um electricity and even gaseous and liquid fuels from the primary treatment of waste. In our first episode on this waste series which was building a million dollar business from Waste Management we mentioned that the global Waste Management Market is currently valued at 1.6 trillion dollars as of 2020. Remember? Let that sink in again. That’s a lot. Yeah, so now coming
to the waste energy Market um the waste energy Market was valued at 35 billion dollars as of um 2019 and it's projected to reach about 52 billion dollars by 2028 growing at an annual growth rate of 5.2 percent throughout the forecast period of 2020 through 2030. so do you know why it's growing up such a rate yeah yes there are several reasons and um I'm just going to highlight some of these reasons so one major one is the fact that there's an increase in domestic and Industrial uh waste disposal globally right um and with this increase there's also a decrease in landfill capacities which is also leading to an increase in tipping fees. So it's it's more expensive for you to dispose your waste into landfill right um and like if you look at the US for example U.S has witnessed a decline in its number of landfills over the past few years and is expected to emerge as one of the larger like the largest waste generating country so yeah okay so that means like the U.S is expected to generate more waste but we don't have space we don't have no spaces to actually keep dumping that waste in exactly exactly and another reason is the fact that there's growing energy demands from the NG sector so can you explain what the NG sector is so by energy sector we're talking about like the transportation industrial commercial and residential sectors because these are the primary consumers of energy mainly in the form of electricity right okay and so with this growing demand like green waste disposal green energy demand there's also a rise in the environmental concerns regarding increase in carbon emissions from the usage of conventional fuels that's fossil fuels and with this concern it has led to more countries opting for cleaner and more efficient sources of power generation um so waste energy as a major that's one of the viable solutions for countries to to meet their carbon reduction targets and be able to switch to um cleaner Energy Technologies um so another reason is the fact that there's really technological advancement in energy recovery um to improve the output efficiency of waste to energy plants with all of these reasons combined um it has led to the creation of favorable regulatory policies encouraging proper waste disposal combined with energy production and so because there are favorable policies from the government and their their Major Market players like companies that actually converting these waste into energy it is actually strengthening um the growth of this industry okay so that's really the reason for the The increased growth yeah so can you give exact examples of those favorable government policies? yeah so there are several government policies across different regions implementing these Technologies but like the major regions implementing Technologies are in North America, the Asia Pacific and Europe. So let's come to North America first um in the
United States um there are several federal laws and regulations that govern renewable energy grid interconnection so um some of these laws are the Federal Power Act and this Act gives Federal authority over electric utilities. We have the public utility regulatory Policy Act um that mandates utilities to buy electricity from qualifying facilities so it's thereby introducing competitions into wholesale power markets right and the energy Policy Act enables electricity um generators to participate in wholesale power Market free from Security and Exchange Commission supervise um supervision um the public utility regulatory Policy Act also offers the way for small non-utility generators to enter the market including renewable energy Developers. So apart from this was all in the United States but in Canada - Canada has also set a target of increasing the share of zero emitting sources to about 90 percent by 2030.
right so this this is actually pushing for cleaner sources of energy to enter into the market does that mean so you said that um the public utility regulatory policy at mandated teachers to buy electricity from qualifying facilities so do you mean that the waste to energy plant would be a part of qualifying facilities yes because um these are low carbon emitting sources right and they're mandating these utility companies to actually purchase purchase power from from low carbon emitting um generators so yeah okay that that act actually makes it possible for the waste to energy generators to actually sell their energy to the grid in order to um be part of the um grid mix the energy grid mix okay in a region yeah okay. In Europe when you come to Europe um in Europe there are direct subsidies carbon tax and landfill taxes uh to waste energy plants and this is likely um going to help drive the regional market over the forecast period right um so if if I should explain that like since there's carbon tax - it becomes more expensive to use fossil fuels, landfill taxes - becomes expensive to just throw your um waste into the landfill so it this policy is making it um favorable for businesses and even individuals to send their waste to waste-to-energy plants yeah um. In the Asia Pacific region there is increased government funding for municipal Solid Waste Management along with growing awareness regarding the waste energy plants across various economies such as India, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand and this is bound to drive the regional market growth. In India specifically the government has undertaken various initiatives for managing Urban and Industrial Waste as it has faced a large number of public health incidents associated with soil and water pollution so now we know why this industry is growing. All because of favorable um government policies which is also an effect of the fact that we are running out of space for landfills and you know it's interesting how you brought up the case with India where um there's a Public Health crisis because of mismanaged waste um but what so for this industry what are the benefits of adopting waste to energy processes because there are definitely other ways of Waste Management right but what benefits exist with converting waste to energy yeah so I'm going to go according to the report from the Environmental Protection Agency so the United States Environmental Protection Agency um actually reported that there's a one-ton reduction in greenhouse gas emission and for every ton of solid waste processed in waste to energy facilities. So what this means basically is the fact that waste to energy plants reduces a significant amount of harmful emissions going to several factors even including recovery of metals for recycling because and in waste energy plant they actually do recover metals um so it's it's also like when you generate energy from waste, it offsets the carbon dioxide from fossil fuel power generation so when you are using the energy or the electricity that generated from waste you're not using the electricity from fossil fuel and that's offsetting that um carbon emission and so there's also the abundance of methane from landfills because you're diverting your waste from landfills you're not sending them to landfills you know methane is not being generated there instead is in the waste energy plant where it's captured and used for energy generation and so like I said before we are also still running out of space from landfill so it is but that you find a way to divert that waste to somewhere it can be useful and waste energy process is really a reliable Waste Management solution yeah.
That's awesome I'm really um I think I really like the part where we are not we are addressing the problem with dumping waste in the landfill. We can't keep creating more space for landfills when we can actually you know find better Solutions one of which is the ways to energy process so can you tell us more about this process or processes what are they yeah yeah on the basis of Technology which is like let me take their um like the global waste energy Market waste energy Market is divided into the Thermal and the Biochemical technology. There's also a sector called the Others but these are the two main ones - thermal and biochemical. Thermal technology is actually the larger segment in the whole waste to energy market and it really involves recycling energy from Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) at high temperature so it includes different processes such as combustion which is also known as incineration. There's gasification and pyrolysis. So these are the
three major types of thermal technology for the waste to energy process. And the major difference between this type um the three types of Technologies I just called is the amount of oxygen that supplied and the temperature of the process so due to like the difference in oxygen and temperature levels it leads to different end products so in some it can just lead to CO2 and Water by the other like based on the temperature it can produce some intermediate and useful products so in terms of gaseous or liquid combustible products um so the thermal technology like the thermal segment of this waste energy Market occupied um the largest revenue share of 82.4 percent in 2019 and incineration was the major contributor to this Revenue growth. So I can just go like just highlight what incineration is, gasification means and uh yeah pyrolysis yeah so um incineration is really a method of waste disposal that involves the combustion of waste so when I talk about combustion of waste you're literally just burning the waste. There is oxygen involved so you can. Incineration is a waste waste management method on its own where you burn
um always but now you can um recover energy from that process if you use a proper incinerator where it burns the waste and it heats water that turns into steam and drives a generator to um drives a turbine to produce electricity so. This is different from like you know there's open air burning it's also I think it's also called incineration where you're just burning but you're not recovering anything across the process. Yes and that's even the open air burning is is an hazard to the environment right yeah right so but incineration it's better to take incineration with energy recovery right because that you're not just um doing it in an open-air situation it's in a confined space it's in a confined space is it is in an incinerator yeah that has um energy recovery attached to it that's the the steam component the turbine component and like a generator that generates electricity and in in proper incinerator plants there's also like emissions control so the emissions that comes from the burning doesn't just go into the atmosphere. It is a closed system so it goes into the emission control where um effluents are adsorbed and just clean um gas is released afterwards yeah so that's that's Incineration - basically combustion.
When we look at gasification, gasification is a technological process that can convert any carbon-based, raw materials but in this sense we're looking at waste biomass right gasification is also used for for coal but we’re concentrating on waste and waste biomass here so it converts um the carbon-based raw materials into um fuel gas and it's usually known as SYNGAS. Syngas is CO2 and hydrogen yeah its synthesis gas but it contains Co and hydrogen which can be used for either electricity generation or it can be used to produce liquid fuels. It's a building block for energy like Energy Products right yeah that's what what happens there so this gasification it occurs like um in with limited oxygen and water, unlike incineration where there's like excess oxygen this like it's like a controlled process where um they feed it um oxygen and steam to generate the products they want okay another major difference from incineration apart from the lesser of oxygen used it's does it go through higher temperature and pressure than incineration? Yes it happens in a unit known as the gasifier and it's okay it occurs at a certain high temperature and high pressure environment. So what about pyrolysis? So for pyrolysis It's also
a thermal treatment right um but with pyrolysis - it is actually biomass pyrolysis and plastic pyrolysis. So plastic can actually go through pyrolysis, biomass can go through pyrolysis. The main difference between pyrolysis and gasification is that pyrolysis occurs in an innate environment so um oxygen is not allowed into that environment, into the pyrolysis chamber okay .So it occurs in an inert environment at high temperature and pressure. So at the end of the day in pyrolysis you you get um a liquid product uh like you get a like gaseous products that can be condensed into liquid products while some gasses remain in gas from so um but the main product here is the pyrolysis oil also known as the bio oil.
On the on the channel and the podcast previously I've made the video that demonstrated um conversion of plastic to oil through pyrolysis and I also interviewed CEO of NAKA Industries which is a company that converts and plastic to oil using paralysis so if you're interested you can always check out those episodes yeah. So the methods we have discussed so far are just for Thermal Technologies. Am I right? yeah so what's the other technology in the waste- to energy process yeah so the other the other technologies the biological technology and there are different ways in which waste can be converted into energy through this technology. So there is the landfill gas recovery which just involves capturing landfill gas from landfills right and landfill gas is a product of anaerobic decomposition of the organic components in Municipal Solid Waste disposed in landfills so this in in the industry this like like they they categorize this as a sector on it’s own different from anaerobic digestion but honestly landfill gas is is literally just biogas from landfill so it's actually um comes from the anaerobic decomposition in landfill but there's also like it's also segmented like another segment is known as the anaerobic digestion segment right because in the anaerobic digestion segment they actually use digesters. So they build digesters for wastewater treatment plants and provide an anaerobic environment for waste to convert it to biogas, so anaerobic just means without oxygen. oxygen
right. So the difference between landfill recovery and the anaerobic digestion..Well I wouldn't say the difference I think yeah the difference would be the location so like yes the waste is already in the landfill and then you're just capturing the gas so yeah we talked about how methane how when um you know waste is dumped into landfill over time it emits methane right So landfill gas recovery is just like capturing that methane instead of allowing it to escape into the atmosphere but for anaerobic digestion like they actually build plants that have anaerobic digesters right so they have to design different design anaerobic digesters and design the process of how to feed the digester system, how to collect the gas from it and some in some anaerobic digestion system also convert their waste product or the effluents to fertilizers okay so there's a whole system so um for the anaerobic digestion so in the anaerobic digestion sector they can have specific waste streams so they can convert food waste to biogas or they can convert animal droppings to biogas or um get biosolid from wastewater treatment plants to biogas so that's so that's why it's into two - landfill gas recovery and anaerobic digestion right. So fermentation is also another um process that falls on that biological uh technology and this a metabolic process that produces chemical changes in organic substrates through the action of enzymes. So to understand it better from fermentation is where you get ethanol hydrogen gas and you can also get more enzymes for it so just think about how alcohol is actually manufactured right so yeah. you have to ferment
um carbohydrates to get um alcohol. Ethanol is an alcohol but it's a chemical based um alcohol um so yeah that's where the fermentation comes in and so in the in this waste consent content we'll be looking at fermentation of waste biomass we are not just um and we are not converting to alcohol if we are converting to fuel for energy right yeah it an alcohol but fuel grade alcohol no I mean like alcohol that we drink.yeah yeah yeah we're not converting to food grade alcohol we're converting to fuel grade or energy grade alcohol yeah so the the last technology is really like a combination of some of Technologies and it's known as mechanical biological treatment um so that's the MBT system so this system is a type of waste processing facility that combines a sorting facility with a form of biological treatment such as composting or anaerobic digestion so when if a company adopts this this um method right they collect they just collect a mixed stream of waste and other facility it goes through sorting where they are picking up Metals picking up recyclables and just separating um the organic components that will probably get um like if they can actually bring out organic components maybe it can go to composting or it can go to anaerobic digestion while some others - if it still mixed, it goes into incineration so is it a just a facility that combines everything so you don't need to physically sort everything. In their process um it sorts and just puts everything in their right place basically so you are pre-treating the waste like you are should I say so in that same facility like you are pre-sorting and then um yeah you are pre-sorting the waste first. You collect household waste, you sort it and
then it goes into like what depending on what kind of organic waste. Yeah but because they combined it it's called a system so they are not doing it separately. It is already in the old system so you want to think about it like maybe Waste Management truck brings mix sorts of waste and just put it in this in this MBT system and there's like a conveyor belt with magnets or yeah like and the density separator or something that separates Metals and separates the ones that will float or fall and like the end stream based on what they have attached to it right can be an anaerobic digestion and digester for just Organics yeah okay or composting so this because it's MBT it has to be about like combined with a biological um stuff that is either composting or anaerobic but the most common ones are just combined with incineration so when they when they sort out whatever they can sort out, they just burn the rest yeah okay okay okay so the non-organic components are burnt are those the ones that are burnt? No I'm saying like in the regular situation the more popular situation that's something stuff is there but they don't see anything yeah they don't sort it to the level where they just bring up biological parts right okay yeah so but in the MBT they have to bring out the organic parts to put it in a biological treatment so their sorting has to be detailed whatever system they have has to be detailed enough to to bring out the biological part so earlier you had mentioned that of the two types of um waste to energy technologies that we have the thermal process is the most popular right and they said incineration like out of so we have only thermal processes we have incineration we have gasification and pyrolysis and incineration is still the most popular and um on that and so some examples of waste to energy companies that mostly practice incineration include Waste Management, Anaergia, Covanta and Covanta energy corporation. So are there other examples of companies that do something else apart from the thermal process yeah like most of also there are a lot of companies but most of them actually do the incineration like they just incinerate and convert to electricity some of them is like a combination of processes for example The Waste Management you talked about also produce renewable natural gas like the capture landfill gas and convert it into renewable natural gas. Anaergia, beyond the clean energy they are providing they also like create fertilizers from it and recycled water so like What I’m trying to say is that they do multiple things most of the time but incineration is usually like just like the the major easiest part yeah um so um it's difficult to find like other companies doing like the other stuff. There are companies but they are not like really popular but one I've seen is the Blue Fire Renewables um and that that company actually um carry out fermentation. So they use
a they have a patent on concentrated acid hydrolysis technology where they convert um cellulosic waste materials - cellulosic waste material is also known as green waste materials - to ethanol so that falls under fermentation like in the biological part um I talked about NAKA Industries previously um those ones carry out pyrolysis or plastic pyrolysis um I found a company called Splainex ecosystems but what they do is actually um design the pyrolysis plant so you can buy the pyrolysis plant from them and then operate um your like operate the the system of converting either plastic or biomass into oil yeah so but there are a lot and we cannot talk about all of them here. We can even talk about home biogas that convert waste to biogas. There are a lot of them yeah. So it looks like there's still this sector is growing definitely and there is room for opportunity or a chance for you know people to still come into the sector and make great businesses out of it so what are the current opportunities available and are there certain challenges that is impeding the growth of this other sectors like the biological sectors for example. So let's start with the opportunities, if you're looking at the opportunities you want to look at the whole supply chain, supply chain like looking at the different sections yeah needed into waste energy process right um before you can convert waste to energy - be it thermal or biological you need to design the technology for it so that's a market space on its own - designing the incinerators, the gasifiers, the pyrolysis chambers, the anaerobic digesters, the fermentation tanks- that's a sector on its own um if you're really technical if you're into engineering designs that's some something you can look at to see if you can help design plants for different regions right yeah so that's that's one opportunity then another opportunity is in the collection and the sorting of waste. One reason why incineration is really
very popular is the fact that it can just accept mixed mixed waste right and so they don't need to be pre-treating and sorting they can just throw it into the into the incinerator chamber um and so that's like something impeding the other other types of Technology because they need um specific waste streams. For example and in an anaerobic digester, you cannot put mixed waste into to it would destroy the um biological process right. So in order for anaerobic digestion to grow you really need um sorting of the waste to make sure that only pure streams are entering so um even with the pyrolysis and the gasifiers they need specific waste streams so there's really need and there's like a lot of opportunity in that collection and sorting um side of things especially for companies that do not have the MBT like we talked about like yeah all of the machineries. They need um that intermediate help to sort waste and give them pure waste streams so that's an opportunity that people can dive into and I've seen this a lot in Plastics like uh different people like different companies that that work on plastic waste most of them actually just solve the problem of collecting and sorting before they give it to to the recycling company so you can see that in every diff every part of waste not just plastic. You can become a collection and sorting company for biomass, you can do that for metal I know um and so the last opportunity I'll say is the operation of the technology itself. Yes we see that it's growing but the regions that we talked about is really just North America um Asia Pacific and Europe uh yeah we have other parts of the world that really need this technology so you can look at what is being done in these areas and implement it in your own um region but even in this region that has been implemented the more is needed because um waste that's been generated only a very few percent is being converted into energy so why is that so there's a need for expansion of this industry so we need more people actually carrying out the operations of this technology so the um I think for Regions like Africa there's where the waste management sector is relatively still growing like there's um should I say there's little in most in some countries there's little or no Waste Management Systems in existence so collection and sorting of wastes it's time consuming definitely it's labor intensive but um if if we can combine the Technologies aspect like you're actually automating the process of sorting the waste then it'd be easy to set up this like um waste to energy plant because you already have like you have a you have the middle um man man yeah you have the middleman that will be doing the collection and sorting and then the Technologies are being made available definitely so yeah uh in order not to extend this episode we're going to end here there are a lot of things to go deep into - the different Industries, what's actually going on in those Industries - so but like in future episodes we'll be diving into the specific waste energy Industries like the anaerobic digestion industry the pyrolysis industry, incineration and gasification to really understand their successes and their shortcomings. We had
mentioned when we started this waste series that this series is going to be a long series but um we hope that you are actually gaining and learning something from it so um we hope you stay with us till the end of this series and maybe you would have started a business so you would be I guess inspired to study business yeah definitely so yeah stay tuned And subscribe to our podcast bye bye Thanks so much for listening to the Sustainability Nuggets podcast. I am Rarosue Amaraibi and I am Tosin Folorunso. If you enjoyed this podcast please leave a rating and review on wherever you listen to your podcast. You can also show your support by signing up for a small donation to help sustain future episodes. You can find all relevant links in the description see you in our next episode.