The high volatility in fuel prices in the recent past and the resulting turbulence in energy markets has compelled many countries to look for alternate sources of energy, for both economic and environmental reasons.
With growing public awareness about sanitation, and with increasing pressure on the government and urban local bodies to manage waste more efficiently, the Indian waste to energy sector is poised to grow at a rapid pace in the years to come. The dual pressing needs of waste management and reliable renewable energy source are creating attractive opportunities for investors and project developers in the waste to energy sector.
Why Waste to Energy?
- Most wastes that are generated find their way into land and water bodies without proper treatment, causing severe water and air pollution. The problems caused by solid and liquid wastes can be significantly mitigated through the adoption of environment-friendly waste to energy technologies that will allow treatment and processing of wastes before their disposal.
- The environmental benefits of waste to energy, as an alternative to disposing of waste in landfills, are clear and compelling. Waste to energy generates clean, reliable energy from a renewable fuel source, thus reducing dependence on fossil fuels, the combustion of which is a major contributor to GHG emissions.
- These measures would reduce the quantity of wastes, generate a substantial quantity of energy from them, and greatly reduce pollution of water and air, thereby offering a number of social and economic benefits that cannot easily be quantified.
In addition to energy generation, waste-to-energy can fetch significant monetary benefits. Some of the strategic and financial benefits from waste-to-energy business are:
1. Profitability - If the right technology is employed with optimal processes and all components of waste are used to derive value, waste to energy could be a profitable business. When government incentives are factored in, the attractiveness of the business increases further.
2. Government Incentives - The government of India already provides significant incentives for waste to energy projects, in the form of capital subsidies and feed in tariffs. With concerns on climate change, waste management and sanitation on the increase (a result of this increasing concern is the newly formed ministry exclusively for Drinking Water and Sanitation), the government incentives for this sector is only set to increase in future.
3. Related Opportunities - Success in municipal solid waste management could lead to opportunities in other waste such as sewage waste, industrial waste and hazardous waste. Depending on the technology/route used for energy recovery, eco-friendly and “green” co-products such as charcoal, compost, nutrient rich digestate (a fertilizer) or bio-oil can be obtained. These co-product opportunities will enable the enterprise to expand into these related products, demand for which are increasing all the time.
4. Emerging Opportunities - With distributed waste management and waste to energy becoming important priorities, opportunities exist for companies to provide support services like turnkey solutions. In addition, waste to energy opportunities exist not just in India but all over the world. Thus, there could be significant international expansion possibilities for Indian companies, especially expansion into other Asian countries.
MNRE(Ministry of New and Renewable Energy) has promoted the national programme for the recovery of energy from industrial and urban wastes. Since this programme seeks to promote setting up of waste-to-energy plants, various financial incentives and other eligibility criteria have been proposed by the MNRE to encourage the participation in waste-to-energy projects.
These are listed below:
- Financial assistance is provided by way of interest subsidy for commercial projects
- Financial assistance is provided on the capital cost for demonstration projects that are innovative in terms of generation of power from municipal/ industrial wastes
- Financial assistance is provided for power generation in STPs
- Financial incentives are given to municipal corporations for supplying garbage free of cost at the project site and for providing land
- Incentives are given to the state nodal agencies for promotion, co-ordination and monitoring of such projects
- Financial assistance is given for carrying out studies on waste to energy projects, covering full costs of such studies
- Assistance is given in terms of training courses, workshops and seminars and awareness generation
Basic Techniques of Energy Recovery from Waste
Energy can be recovered from the organic fraction of waste (biodegradable as well as non-biodegradable) through thermal, thermo-chemical and biochemical methods.
A brief description of the commonly applied technologies for energy generation from waste is as follows
- Anaerobic Digestion/ Biomethanation: In this process, the organic fraction of the waste is segregated and fed into a closed container (biogas digester). In the digester, the segregated waste undergoes biodegradation in presence of methanogenic bacteria and under anaerobic conditions, producing methane-rich biogas and effluent. The biogas can be used either for cooking/heating applications, or for generating motive power or electricity through dual-fuel or gas engines, low-pressure gas turbines, or steam turbines. The sludge from anaerobic digestion, after stabilization, can be used as a soil conditioner. It can even be sold as manure depending upon its composition, which is determined mainly by the composition of the input waste.
- Combustion/Incineration: In this process, wastes are directly burned in presence of excess air (oxygen) at high temperatures (about 800°C), liberating heat energy, inert gases, and ash. Combustion results in transfer of 65%–80% of heat content of the organic matter to hot air, steam, and hot water. The steam generated, in turn, can be used in steam turbines to generate power.
- Pyrolysis/Gasification: is a process of chemical decomposition of organic matter brought about by heat. In this process, the organic material is heated in absence of air until the molecules thermally break down to become a gas comprising smaller molecules (known collectively as syngas). Gasification can also take place as a result of partial combustion of organic matter in presence of a restricted quantity of oxygen or air. The gas so produced is known as producer gas. The gases produced by pyrolysis mainly comprise carbon monoxide (25%), hydrogen and hydrocarbons (15%), and carbon dioxide and nitrogen (60%). The next step is to ‘clean’ the syngas or producer gas. Thereafter, the gas is burned in internal combustion (IC) engine generator sets or turbines to produce electricity.
- Landfill Gas recovery: The waste dumped in a landfill becomes subjected, over a period of time, to anaerobic conditions. As a result, its organic fraction slowly volatilizes and decomposes, leading to production of ‘landfill gas’, which contains a high percentage of methane (about 50%). It can be used as a source of energy either for direct heating/cooking applications or to generate power through IC engines or turbines.