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British MP in push for waste-to-electricity scheme

JAN 10, 2015

The Nation

Waste2Tricity International Thailand and UK Trade and Investment have announced a joint effort to promote the use of municipal solid waste to generate electricity in this country.

Speaking at a joint presentation on tackling Thailand’s “waste crisis” at the British Embassy in Bangkok, British MP and environmentalist Tim Yeo said there had been great progress in developing low-carbon energy sources and recovering energy from waste.

Addressing an audience that included government and industry leaders, Yeo said the plasma gasification system could convert waste efficiently into syngas – an energy-rich synthesis gas – by taking high-calorific-value waste from landfill sites and converting it to electricity delivered to the national grid.

Yeo – the Conservative MP for South Suffolk since 1983 and chairman of the British Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Select Committee – said the process dramatically outperformed incineration in terms of efficiency, cost and environmental impact.

“Excessive waste and insufficient power are serious problems that Thailand is facing,” he said. “Accelerating an alternative power plant by using waste to produce energy can solve two of the country’s pressing problems.

“First, it helps reduce the electricity shortfall by adding base-load generating capacity using a readily available fuel in the form of waste. Second, it addresses the problem of the ever-growing mountain of waste.”

Yeo – the first president of the UK’s Renewable Energy Association, a not-for-profit trade association representing renewable-energy producers and promoting the use of renewable energy – said Thailand could move to the “zero landfill concept” by combining a strong policy in waste separation at the source with a crackdown on illegal dumping. A public awareness campaign should also be undertaken to get households to adopt waste reduction and recycling.

He said that given Thailand’s rising population, expanding economy and improving living standards, the generation of municipal solid waste was expected to increase by about 30 per cent a year, reaching 20 million tonnes by 2022.

He warned that Thailand’s present waste-management infrastructure could not cope with this challenge and this had led to illegal dumping, groundwater pollution, public health concerns and environmental disasters such as last year’s landfill fires.

“Today the share of renewable energy in the UK has risen to almost 15 per cent, and energy from waste has taken one-third of the electricity generation,” he said. “Over half the waste stream is now either recycled or used to generate electricity.”

Yeo said UK Air Products, one of the world’s largest specialist gas suppliers, was investing almost US$1 billion (Bt33 billion) to build two Westinghouse plasma gasification plants. Each one is set to have a generating capacity of 50 megawatts and use Alter NRG Corporation’s plasma gasification system to convert waste efficiently into syngas.

“One must start to consider waste not as a problem to just dispose of but as an energy feedstock,” he said.

Incineration technology from the 20th century lacked effective controls and harmful pollutants might be emitted into the air. He said that because of the heat generated by the plasma, producing syngas had side benefits. Syngas is clean and generates power by combusting it in either turbines or gas engines.

There is also the potential to convert syngas into hydrogen. He said this would allow the use of UK-based AFC Energy’s alkaline fuel cells, which had a conversion efficiency that was about 40 per cent better than a gas engine, while hydrogen could be diverted to other uses such as powering vehicles.

This would make hydrogen available wherever a waste-conversion site was built and would be the fundamental infrastructure of a future hydrogen economy.

This technology not only offers Thailand a solution to using its waste in an efficient way, but in the long term it also offers the opportunity for the Kingdom to become the first country in the world to have a commercially sustainable distributed hydrogen system, Yeo said.

In his last ministerial post as minister of state for the countryside and environment, Yeo reformed planning laws that helped develop climate-change policy and establish the now-thriving Energy Saving Trust. This trust helps households, government, businesses and other organisations save energy.