Global Dynamics of WTE Plants

With fast growth in population and rapid urbanization, the amount of waste or trash materials has been increasing in an alarming way. Although not yet established as a very impressive and a unanimously acceptable solution, globally, the focus on Waste-To-Energy (WTE) plants is growing…  - P. K. Chatterjee (PK)

A WTE plant in Saugus, Massachusetts, the first plant in the United States.… Source: wiki/Waste-to-energy_plant#/media/ File:Wheelabrator_Waste-to-Energy_ Plant,_Saugus_MA.jpg

Although according to EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration) June 2022 Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory report, in the recent past, U.S. Waste-To-Energy (WTE) electric-generating capacity has started to decline after averaging around 2,219 megawatts (MW) for 24 years, in many other parts of the world, the scenario is completely different. In the U.S., from 2018 to 2022, 188 MW of WTE capacity has retired, and another 36 MW is expected to retire by 2027. Low electricity prices, local opposition, and continued policy concerns about emissions have pressured WTE plant owners to close in recent years.

But, in a recently published report, Research Drive has stated that the global WTE market is expected to surpass $70,700.0 million and grow with a CAGR of 4.7% in the estimated period, 2021-2028. With advancement of Waste-To-Energy technologies, production of heat and electricity from waste is gaining popularity across many parts of the world.

According to Research Drive, increasing use of Waste-To-Energy technology owing to its potential to replace coal for electricity generation is anticipated to divulge profitable opportunities for the growth of the market in the estimated period. However, high costs involved in the installation of WTE plants are expected to obstruct the growth of the market in the coming years.

In the last two years, the abrupt rise of COVID-19 pandemic, adversely impacted the growth of the global waste to energy market. The pandemic surged the amount of toxic medical wastes like gloves, sanitizer bottles, PPE kits, and others, which triggered the fear of infection among waste handling departments.

Additionally, implementation of lockdown and social distancing norms affected several commercial activities, disrupted transport, and halted manufacturing & production processes, thus impacting the waste management owing to inappropriate collection & disposal of waste. All these factors hampered the growth of the market during the pandemic period.

What is exactly meant by ‘Waste-To-Energy’

According to the concise description given by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Waste-to-energy (WTE) refers to a variety of treatment technologies that convert waste to electricity, heat, fuel or other usable materials, as well as a range of residues. Thermal waste to energy, also known as incineration with energy recovery, is a major waste treatment method in some developed countries and the most widely adopted technology that dominates the global WTE market.

Union Home and Cooperation Minister, Amit Shah is inaugurating the Tehkhand Waste to Energy Plant on October 20, 2022…

Waste-To-Energy (WTE) plant

As per U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “WTE power plants convert the combustible content of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) into energy. At mass burn facilities, trash waste is unloaded from collection trucks, freight trucks, and railcars into a storage bunker. An overhead crane then sorts the waste and lifts it into the combustion chamber to be burned. The heat released converts water to steam, which is routed to a turbine generator to produce electricity. WTE plants are primarily intended as a waste management option; electricity generation is considered a secondary benefit.”

The journey was started with thermal treatment of wastes through incinerators. However, with advancement in technology, the process has been upgraded to a great extent. Latest WTE plants segregate the hazardous or recyclable materials before burning. Today, WTE generation is often treated as a potential energy diversification strategy.

Sweden, the greenest country in the world, produces 467 kg of waste per person per year, but almost 99% of that is recycled. As on date 34 WTE plants are operating in that country. The government there is very careful to not to waste any waste. It is the effect of a series of policies that the Swedish government has been implementing since 1990. Also, as per their policy, the producers are made responsible for handling all costs associated with the collection and disposal of their products, which is known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Every household is also paying a weight-based waste charge there to incentivise recycling. As per a report, in 2020, almost 50% of household waste in Sweden was used to produce energy through WTE technology.

A few instances of financial support

Sound financing trend is an indirect indicator of the popularity and growth potential of any technology. As far as financing WTE projects is concerned, of late the trend bids fair. Three examples are cited below.

In the recent past, Fortum and GIG (Green Investment Group, a specialist green investor within Macquarie Asset Management), have made a decision to invest in a new Waste-to-Energy plant in Glasgow, Scotland, through a 50/50 joint venture. When fully commissioned, the South Clyde Waste-to-Energy plant is expected to have a processing capacity of 350,000 tonnes of waste per year. This processing capacity represents the annual amount of waste of about 700,000 individuals. The plant is expected to have a power generation capacity of 45 MWe gross, corresponding to the average annual electricity consumption of approximately 90,000 homes.

Even within the most uncertain phase of economy during the peak corona days of 2020, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved a package of $73 million to develop a WTE facility in Maldives. Greater Malé and its neighboring 32 outer islands that host 86 tourist resorts face a severe challenge of environmental pollution and deteriorating livability due to inadequate collection and haphazard disposal of solid waste. Over 830 tons per day (tpd) of solid wastes are generated in the area and dumped or burned at the 10-hectare dump site on Thilafushi island. Established in 1992, this dump site has no pollution control measures. The site contaminates the surrounding environment and is a public health and environmental hazard threatening fisheries and tourism.

The project will significantly improve Maldives’ solid waste management through the provision of efficient and sustainable treatment and disposal infrastructure. The WTE facility will be a pivotal component of an integrated solid waste management system, which will improve public and environmental health, especially ocean health.

The project will establish a WTE plant with a capacity of 500 tpd, 2 treatment lines of 250 tpd each, an 8-megawatt electricity surplus energy recovery facility, an air pollution control system, and a landfill for safe disposal of air pollution control residues and non-marketable incineration bottom ash.

Towards the beginning of this calendar year, HDFC Bank has joined hands with Indore Clean Energy Private Limited (ICEPL) for development of 550 tonnes per day of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to Compressed Biogas (CBG) plant – the largest Bio-CNG plant in Asia. Indore Clean Energy Pvt Ltd (ICEPL) has been promoted by Green Growth Equity Fund (GGEF), which is the largest climate impact fund in India with anchor investors like NIIF & Government of UK.

The plant is expected to treat 50% of municipal waste generated in Indore City and convert that to 100% green products (biogas and manure). ICEPL has a 20-year concession agreement with Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC) for procurement of municipal solid waste and converting it to CBG.

A glimpse of the latest Indian scenario

Around 277.1 million tonnes of solid wastes are produced in India every year. We have a potential of generating 5,690 MW of electricity from urban and industrial organic waste. However, the total electricity generated through this process is very less even today.

The first WTE plant was set up in Timarpur in Delhi in 1987, but that survived only for 20 days. The Rs. 20 crores plant, built by a Denmark-based company, was supposed to incinerate 300 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day to generate 3.75 MW of electricity. However, the plan lost its way because of poor quality of waste (as fuel) available.

Till the end of the FY 2021-22, 249 WTE plants were set up in India. They use the incineration method with modern control systems. They process Municipal Solid Wastes (MSWs) having a calorific value of more than 1,500 kCal/kg – and are equipped with pollution control and temperature control devices. However, all of them do not contribute to electricity generation.

The Union Home and Cooperation Minister, Amit Shah has recently inaugurated the Tehkhand Waste to Energy Plant, which will generate electricity from the waste of Municipal Corporation of Delhi with immediate effect. After the commissioning of this plant, Delhi has a capacity to dispose off about 7,000 metric tonnes of garbage per day. According to Shah, 2,000 metric tonnes of waste will be segregated, burnt and used in a green way every day from this plant. Along with this, about 25 MW of Green Energy will also be produced. Construction of another 3,000 metric ton waste to energy plant at Narela is to be completed by August 2025.


WTE technology needs more development to be widely accepted. At present it is just a solution for trash handling as there is hardly any alternative. Land filling with wastes leads to other challenges – like spread of toxicity. WTE plants produce less air pollution than coal-fired plants, but natural gas plants are better than them in this regard. So, at least in the present status quo, it is not a very high potential solution for green power generation.

By P. K. Chatterjee (PK)

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