Waste to energy: The process of turning waste – such as regular household garbage and industrial waste – into energy, is slowly gaining traction in Australia.
'Waste to energy', or WtE, is already widespread in Asia and Europe, where it has a reputation for producing clean and green electricity. The process both diverts waste from landfill and produces energy without burning fossil fuels.
In New South Wales, a draft policy open to public consultation is aiming to make NSW one of the leading states in Australia in terms of utilising waste as a major form of energy.
This particular policy involves ‘thermal treatment’ of waste in incinerator plants. While it is often assumed that the incinerator process of burning rubbish is dirty and smoky, today’s global breed of WtE incinerator plants all adhere to stringent emission standards.
NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker said the draft Energy from Waste policy is a part of modern framework for waste management that is in line with international standards.
“Not only are we keeping waste from going to landfill but we are also creating a viable source of green energy that can be used by NSW businesses and households.”
Ms Parker said waste to energy provides a practical option for waste that has come to the end of its recycle or reuse stream.
But what is it about this new breed of WtE technologies that makes them so green and clean? General Manager of Luhr Filter, Trevor Baud, said recent developments in air filter technology were one of the key explanations.
“Proven high-tech dry scrubbers and fabric filters are in use at WtE facilities around the world. These filters catch all sorts of pollutants, from heavy metals such as mercury, to ash and dust particles so commonly associated with burning waste,” Mr Baud said.
As a company that specialises in air pollution control, Luhr Filter employs innovative technologies to reduce emission levels from WtE plants well beyond industry regulations.
“One of the processes we use in WtE plants is dry adsorption of dioxins, furans and heavy metals,” said Mr Baud
“This uses reactive additives, such as activated carbon, lime or bicarbonate, to remove hazardous pollutants from waste exhaust. In this process, the waste gas is first cooled to ideal levels for chemical reactions, before being exposed to the adsorption reagents.”
Equipment such as Luhr Filter's Conditioning Rotor is used to break up large particles to maximise the surface area for efficient reaction. Flat bag filters are then used to make sure that particles of ash and any used reagents are removed, before the cleaned gas is released into the atmosphere.
Up until recently, Australia has enjoyed low energy prices through an abundance of low-cost coal and low landfill costs. But as more countries successfully implement waste to energy facilities, concerns about incinerators polluting Australia’s air are gradually starting to ease.
If this NSW government proposal is anything to go by, some predict that it won’t be long until Australia starts to embrace waste to energy technology in earnest.