Uptake in biomass plants for waste management will reduce our dependence on landfills, which are harmful to the environment.
Landfills drain toxic liquids that pollute underground water sources, while also producing methane emissions (a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more powerful than CO2).
These methane emissions are produced via a natural process called anaerobic digestion, in which the organic materials (plant and animal products) are broken down by bacteria in an oxygen-free environment.
While this methane is damaging in landfills, when applying the anaerobic digestion process to waste-to-energy plants, it creates a renewable energy source called biogas. This means that we can create a sustainable energy source from our waste.
Biomass is organic material that we’re able to generate energy from in five main forms:
With 100 plants in North America, 500 in Europe and 1,600 in Asia; the world is opening itself up to biogas. However, there’s still a long way to go.
The US alone produces more than 70 million tons of organic waste each year. If the US tapped into all its biogas potential, the reduction of emissions would be equal to what’s produced by 11 million passenger vehicles.
But even in Europe the adoption could be better, where 50% of municipal solid waste still becomes landfill.
Globally, multiple companies are striving to champion the biogas process, encouraging investment and making the world a more sustainable place.
Through the Vølund product line, US American industrial manufacturer Babcock & Wilcox, has designed and built more than 560 waste-to-energy lines around the world.
The industrial giants built their first waste-to-energy plant back in 1930, cementing themselves as pioneers in the industry. Since then, the company has grown to become one of the world’s leading technology suppliers, specialising in converting household waste and biomass into heat and power.
Their Vølund product line also includes a range of turnkey solutions utilizing strategic partnerships. It’s these turnkey solutions that make Babcock & Wilcox a unique company to work with in biogas. Unlike many of their competitors, they provide engineering, design, construction and manufacturing services to multiple waste plants (including their own).
Technology is also a reason to partner with Babcock & Wilcox. Their Waste Fuel Feeder Systems are efficient and offer low operational and maintenance costs. Meanwhile, the company’s water-cooled wear zones are revolutionary for waste-fired power plants – making them more efficient, economical, more accessible and productive.
Wheelabrator are also a global leader in environmental conversion of everyday residential and business waste - and other renewable waste fuels - into clean energy.
They have 16 waste-to-energy facilities in the US and UK, with an annual waste processing capacity of over 7.5 million tons. This generates a combined electrical capacity of 825 megawatts. That’s enough to power more than 771,000 homes - as well as Wheelabrator’s own operations.
Their municipal solid waste disposal services ensure that millions of tons of unwanted household material waste are used as fuel to create electric power, steam and heat.
Meanwhile, their commercial and industrial waste services remain flexible to meet the needs of the client.
With a similar global footprint, Anaergia own four manufacturing facilities and have built over 1,600 installations on four continents.
Their flexible delivery models provide unique integrated solutions to maximize resource recovery from any waste stream, all over the world.
This includes recovery and recycling of plastics, papers and metals before recovering biodegradable organic material for conversion to energy and fertilizer. A small portion of the reject material is transformed into a sustainable refuse derived fuel (RDF).
Unlike traditional approaches, Anaergia’s solutions recover 90% of organics without limitations on in-feed contamination levels. The recovered organic material is a nutrient rich feed for anaerobic digestion and can be used in co-digestion plants to increase biogas production.
Founded by a concoction of engineers, biologists, chemists, agriculturalists and technicians; BTS Biogas are also devoted to biogas. They design, install, construct and operate plants all around the world.
From the 15 biogas power plants the company started with in 2008, BTS has grown to operate 180 plants across Europe.
Their unique technologies in biogas include the BIOaccelerator which can increase and optimize the productivity and profitability of biogas power plants. It does this by using less biomass to fuel electricity, saving up more than 25% of substrates and improving the biological efficiency of more than 80%.
On top of biogas, BTS plants also produce biomethane through biogas upgrading. This upgraded gas can be used as a clean source of energy to fuel vehicles or be injected into natural gas pipelines.
In addition, BTS offer biological assistance and consulting, utilize part of our resources to develop appropriate software to computerize the management of the plants and have a laboratory set up in Porto Mantovano (Italy) dedicated to biogas, METANlab.
While I’ve championed the advantages of biogas, there’s still concern around the efficiency of it and the anaerobic digestion process. That’s when compared to fossil fuels.
Like other renewable energy sources (solar, wind) biogas generation is also affected by the weather. The optimal temperature bacteria need to digest waste is around 37°C. In cold climates, digesters require heat energy to maintain a constant biogas supply.
Some critiques also say that waste-to-energy could reduce the incentive to recycle. However, countries in the EU that have the most waste-to-energy plants also have the highest recycling rates.
Waste is a global issue that’s not going away any time soon. Uptake is needed in waste prevention, followed by recycling, energy recovery, treatment and waste-to-energy. I’m pleased to see the waste-to-energy industry will see an estimated growth rate of over 50% in the global market over the next six year. Let’s hope this is the start of a global, sustainable solution to waste management.
As a recruiter specialising in this space, I’d be really interested to hear what you think of this article and about what your company is doing in biogas. Please also get in touch if you would like to take advantage of my recruitment services at Bilal.Ahmed@industrial-cm.com.
In the last few years, we've made great strides in making renewable energy more prolific, cheaper and efficient. Despite other global markets being halted in their tracks in 2020, the cleantech industry has shown little sign of slowing down.