The Asia Miner

JUN 2018

The ASIA Miner - Reporting Important Issues to Mining Companies in the Asia Pacific Region

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the asia miner • volume 15 • issue 2 18 WASTE TO ENERGY The arƟcle in Q1 of The ASIA Miner flagged a short detour to the AIEN Forum on Energy from Waste (EfW), which took place in Ballarat, Victoria from 19-22 February 2018. It was the third in a conƟnuing series of annual events, which began in 2016. That Forum presented an overview of EfW in Australia whereas the focus in 2017 was on understanding the various technologies commercially available and those being developed. Following the progression set by the first two Fora, the event in February 2018 concentrated on the thrills and tribulaƟons of developing projects in pracƟce. The program included guest speakers from the UK, conƟnental Europe, the USA and Canada, whose knowledge and experience was debated in relaƟon to developments in Australia. Every major process for extracƟng energy from waste was canvased. They included large scale thermal treatment of municipal solid waste (MSW); local combined heat and power plants (CHP); plasma gasificaƟon, pyrolysis and hydrogen energy systems. Importantly, biological processes also featured in the program, mainly anaerobic digesƟon (AD) to generate fuel gas from domesƟc and industrial putrescible waste. Commercial topics included managing project incepƟon and development; characterisaƟon and preparaƟon of fuel for specific processes; assessment of markets for 'off- take' products such as electricity or liquid fuel; analysis of risk; the legal 'minefield' confronƟng proponents applying for government approvals and, of course, establishing the 'business case' and obtaining funding, which are criƟcally important in any project. An enƟre session comprised discussions between the audience and a panel of representaƟves from various State Environmental ProtecƟon Agencies. The objecƟve was to canvas issues confronted by both private and public sectors during the process of approving projects. Such opportuniƟes are rare in Australia, yet mutual understanding greatly facilitates innovaƟon and the development of appropriate infrastructure. SelecƟng the right technology and infrastructure for the intended purpose was a recurring theme. Speakers emphasised the wisdom of truly understanding what is appropriate for a given situaƟon and carefully planning its implementaƟon. RESOURCE RECOVERY A COMMON THEME Regarding purpose, the overarching theme of resource recovery emerged during the Forum. This was an encouraging, if somewhat surprising development because 'collecƟve' thinking in Australia about this topic had not been prominent in previous Fora. A core concept of industrial ecology in relaƟon to resource recovery is the noƟon of a waste hierarchy, myriad examples of which float around the internet. In previous Fora, this noƟon was barely menƟoned. In 2018, almost all speakers referred to the hierarchy in one way or another. The inference is that recovering resources wherever possible is gaining increasing aƩenƟon from people in a posiƟon to make a real difference in pracƟce. The aspiraƟon is that future generaƟons will transform such thinking into 'collecƟve' acƟon. AŌer all, it is only thorough acƟon that sustainable development is possible. MSW AND THAT OLD CHESTNUT 'RESIDUAL' WASTE While thinking on one front may be shiŌing, some major controversies seem to endure unchanged. For example, the mantra jusƟfying thermal treatment of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is that it will only burn residual waste that would otherwise have gone to landfill. The problem is: no categorical definiƟon exists of what 'residual' actually means. Although long-term supply contracts of MSW for thermal processing might include some flexibility to adjust fuel specificaƟons, the underlying business model depends on there being a minimum amount of high-energy material available, which generally requires a significant proporƟon of hydrocarbons, such as plasƟcs. 'Residual' usually means everything leŌ aŌer (conveniently) extracƟng materials that can currently be recycled. That could include significant amounts of plasƟcs that might not be recyclable now but could be in future, as technologies improve. Such supply arrangements potenƟally sƟfle innovaƟon and tend to minimise rather than maximise the highest net recoverable value (HNRV) of the materials concerned. The whole point of recovering resources from waste, be it domesƟc, industrial, agricultural of from extracƟve industries, is to achieve the HNRV possible at any given Ɵme. CONSERVE OR BURN? A corollary to the 'conserve or burn' debate is what to do with recovered materials. Logically, they must either be returned to the 'producƟve' economy or, theoreƟcally at least, they should be stored, that is, conserved for future use. In commercial terms, there must be a market demand for recovered materials, or significant and conƟnuing government (societal) support, to make recovery a commercially viable or otherwise a socially beneficial proposiƟon. The dearth in Australia of demand for recovered materials, especially plasƟcs and Ɵmber, is parƟcularly acute and becoming more so, as Future of EfW in Australia: Mere waste solution or something more? By Dr Robin Branson PhD, MBA, BSc. (Hons), Director Australian Industrial Ecology Network (reƟred)

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