Material and Energy valorisation of waste in a Circular Economy

Work programme – the role of Task 36

The role of Task 36

Task 36 is designed to allow exchange of information on evolving waste management impacts on the integration of energy into waste management. There are a number of issues associated with this that are relevant to many IEA Bioenergy countries.

The Task is designed to facilitate exchange of information on strategic technical and non-technical issues related to the integration of energy into waste management decision-making and operations. While stakeholders contributing to this exchange of information include researchers, the waste industry, the energy from waste sector, policy makers and local decision makers, the Task proposes to continue its prioritisation of information for policy and decision makers.

The Task will cover a wide range of topics of relevance to energy from waste, as requested by its participants.  However, there are limitations to what the Task can achieve alone, due to the small number of participating countries.  In order to cover the wide range of interest we will use Task meetings for exchange of information.  These meetings have been very successful and informative. We propose to use them to greater benefit by selecting a theme for each meeting, associated with specific topics that have been identified as priorities by the current Task members.  These will then form the basis of a workshop at each meeting, which will be open to wider participation than the Task on the basis that participants must actively contribute to the workshop.  Each IEA participant will present on a related subject of relevance to their work. The proceedings of these workshops will then be published on our web site.

The Task is aware of issues that influence energy from waste that are covered in other Tasks and by other organisations and are working together with other tasks in IEA Bioenergy as well as with organisations such as International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).


Priorities for 2016-18

Priorities for 2016-18 have been developed taking the global trends discussed above in to account and also local trends of importance to participating countries. The members have shown interest in the following areas:

Production of waste derived fuels

Recovered fuels include refuse derived fuels (RDF) and solid recovered fuels (SRF). RDF is a relatively high calorific component of mixed waste, produced as a result of processing of that waste.  This includes residual waste after recyclables have been recovered.  SRF are specific fuels developed from waste that meets particular specifications as outlined in standards.

There is considerable interest in recovered fuels at the moment in Europe.  This is a natural consequence of increased processing of waste and the development of Mechanical and Biological Treatment (MBT) plants in Europe.  Other drivers include the EU Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS), which requires carbon reductions in key industrial sectors; and the increasing cost of fossil fuels.  Incineration of waste is excluded under the EU ETS if the waste treated is municipal waste and the primary purpose is wastes treatment.  For co-incinerated wastes where their primary use is as a fuel, the combustion is included, but the biomass content is regarded as neutral, which provides an incentive to use waste derived fuels in industries with carbon emission targets.  Recovered fuels may have very different composition to mixed waste, particularly in terms of moisture content, calorific value and chemical composition.

The recovered fuel resource could be significant.  JRC has estimated that production of all recovered fuels in Europe in 2004 was 70Mt, of which 45-49% was of MSW origin.  ERFO, the European solid recovered fuels organisation, estimated that 4-5 Mt of solid recovered fuels was produced in 2005 and that the potential market in Europe is 24-43Mt.   Recent reports in the UK press indicated that the level of export of refuse derived fuel was 290,000t in 2011  and the amount of waste wood exported was over 500,000t.

Task 36 has followed the growth of these fuels, supporting a conference in 2011 and a workshop in 2013. We propose to build on this work by holding a joint seminar with Task 32  on the topic of co-firing of challenging biomass fuels, including solid recovered fuels from waste.


Commercial and industrial waste

To date most effort has concentrated on municipal solid waste, but there are also significant quantities of commercial and industrial waste produced.  In some countries this waste is not included in the municipal waste stream and less is known about its arisings and management. There are a number of questions about the contribution of commercial and industrial waste to energy recovery, its biogenic content and potential as a feedstock for recovered fuels, such as refuse derived fuels and solid recovered fuel.  A number of these issues are of interest to participating countries, particularly the potential value of energy recovery from this waste stream.


The Circular economy and smart waste management

In society today there are discussions about how to create a long-term sustainable economic development. The transformation of our often linear economy towards a more circular one are often raised as a solution. In these scenarios that encompasses everything from product design, consumer behaviour, and business models, waste management plays a vital role. There is a need to re-use and recycle more materials in a sustainable society but it is not clear how energy recovery comes into the picture. In some scenarios EfW is not considered as a part of the circular economy, even though there are waste materials that should not be circulated back into society, but where the energy could be recovered and fed back instead. There will also be changed in amounts and composition of the waste treated in EfW plants which might pose a technical challenge to the EfW operators. We will examine these issues by holding a workshop with leading advocates of the circular economy and smart waste management. The theme of this workshop will be to examine the role that EfW has to play in a circular economy, including the recovery of materials and by-products from waste.  This will examine how energy recovery can be included in a fully integrated waste management system to close the resources circle and how waste refineries might be developed.


Advanced thermal conversion of waste

One interesting development in energy recovery from waste is the increase in interest in advanced thermal conversion of waste. This is related to the potential for greater flexibility in the way the process is used. For example advanced conversion options can result in the production of gaseous fuel for use in turbines or injection to the grid or the production of other chemicals from the thermal conversion process, such as liquid fuels. There is also a potential for the development of other higher value chemicals, although this is not being realised at present. To examine the progress in the application of these technologies, the challenges that are being faced and the status of the technologies we propose to hold a joint workshop with IEA Bioenergy Task 33. The aim of this workshop will be to examine recent and future trends (including drivers) and to encourage discussion of a number of key issues, such as feedstock preparation, technologies, the importance of policy support, the commercialisation of the technology and how the technology is being applied.


Transboundary shipment of waste

The production of increased amounts of refuse derived fuel (RDF) through mechanical and biological treatment in Europe has been accompanied by a trend to ship this fraction around Europe. The incentives for this shipment are multiple: including a desire to generate heat locally to feed district heating systems in the Nordic countries or a need to find waste for the current over-deployment of EfW plants in central-western Europe. We will work with Task 40 to uncover how much waste feedstock is being transported for energy purposes around Europe and the drivers, incentives and implications of this trend. The work will in first instance focus mainly on ongoing trade in the member countries in Tasks 36 and 40. It will cover different types of solid waste beyond RDF, including municipal solid waste, RDF, solid recovered fuel (SRF) and recovered or recycled wood classified as waste. Used cooking oil and other liquid waste streams will not be included.


Implications of waste policies on recovery of energy from waste

Participating countries have reported moves to go beyond diversion of waste from landfill to ban certain waste streams from landfill (e.g. wood waste, biodegradable waste or combustible waste).  Of relevance to this are changes in waste management activities prior to energy recovery, such as source segregation, re-processing of some waste streams (e.g. waste wood) and mechanical and biological treatment (MBT).   Such processes decrease the amount of waste going to energy recovery, but they also change its chemical and physical characteristics.  Task 36 participants are interested in how changes in waste management as a result of Government policies impact the composition of waste received at the combustion plant (such as calorific value, moisture content, chemical characteristics and the physical properties of the waste) and how plants are being designed to cope with these changes.  They are also interested to understand the impacts on the economics of MSW combustion plants. The UK is particularly interested in how these changes should be taken into account in the incentives for renewable energy from waste.


Work programme

The work programme has been designed to pragmatically fit in with the number of members of the Task in the 2016-18 Triennium, whilst at the same time covering the issues indicated as important by current Task members.


Activity Structure

4 key activities are proposed to achieve the work of the Task:

  • Task meetings, with associated workshops
  • Collaborative work with other Tasks and other organisations.
  • Reports on key topics
  • Communication through presentation of results on the web site and via international conferences.


Task meetings and associated workshops

The Task’s core work will be undertaken in the newly structured Task meetings, each of which will be accompanied with a themed workshop.  The aim of these workshops is to allow Task members to present work on the nature of the issues concerned within their own country; to invite speakers to present work of relevance and to allow discussion of the issues presented. These meetings will not detract from the very successful current format of Task meetings, which normally include a relevant site visit.  This format will continue.

The following workshops are currently being proposed:

  • Towards a Sustainable Waste Management – the Status and Role of EfW in Italy and Europe
  • Co-firing of Challenging Biomass Fuels, including SRF from Waste
  • The Role of Energy from Waste in a Circular Economy
  • Recent and Future Trends and Drivers relating to  Advanced Thermal Conversion of Waste
  • Transboundary Shipment of Waste

Collaborative work

There will be collaborative work going on through the Triennium on the following subjects

  • SRF and co-firing of challenging Biomass fuels, together with Task 32
  • Production of liquid fuels from waste, together with Task 33
  • Transboundary shipment of waste, together with Task 40
  • Strategic report on Fuel pre-treatment of biomass residues, Task 32,33,34,40, and 43.
  • Circular economy and smart waste management, suggested to be a collaboration with ISWA

ExCo interaction and support

This Task will continue to support the Bioenergy Agreement in its work.  To do this the Task leader will attend ExCo meetings as necessary and provide annual reports and accounts as required.

To strengthen the involvement of the ExCo with the Task, the ExCo member for the host country will be invited to participate in the Task meeting held in their country.