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Determining the viability of a waste-to-energy plant in Africa

Waste no longer needs to end up as landfill

Waste no longer needs to end up as landfill

09 November 2015 - Nick Mannie, Aurecon’s waste expert, was invited to deliver a keynote presentation at the African Waste Week conference in early September at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in Cape Town, South Africa. Mannie discussed the development and execution of robust feasibility plans to determine the viability of a waste-to-energy plant.

“Waste energy is very topical at the moment and many government institutions, as well as private sector clients, are realising the benefits and need for waste-to-energy plants. Waste is no longer seen as something that needs to end up in a landfill. The thinking and mindset surrounding waste has changed a great deal over the past few years and people are interested in turning their waste into a valuable resource,” says Mannie.

There are many drivers for waste-to-energy plants, such as reducing the use of fossil fuels, diversion of waste from landfills and pursuing zero waste targets. However, government as well as private sector clients need to do thorough and careful analysis and feasibility assessment studies to determine whether waste-to-energy is actually viable for their organisation, neighbourhood, municipality or region.

“Waste-to-energy plants are a considerable investment and they require intensive work to get them off the ground,” says Mannie.

Besides researching the available land for such a project, clients would also need to consider their technology options, how the characteristics and volume of the waste may change in the future and how this will impact the decisions that they are making.

“One would have to consider, for example, whether there is a market that would purchase your offtake product. You also need to make sure that you can generate and supply this energy in continuous and sustainable amounts. On top of this, there are a variety of technologies that need to be considered for a waste-to-energy plant including gasification, pyrolysis, plasma gasification, mass burn, in-vessel composting and mechanical heat treatment. The water usage of each technology is also an important factor that needs to be weighed during the decision-making process,” says Mannie.

“Further complying with legal, statutory and municipal requirements alone can be a large undertaking, therefore clients need to partner with the right specialists to drive a project such as this forward,” says Mannie.

The financial implications of waste-energy plants are also often underestimated, says Mannie. Everything from donor fund sourcing and alternative financial mechanisms to equity investments from investors needs to be researched to make such a plant economically feasible.

“Waste-to-energy projects generally need to operate for over 20 years in order to be considered financially viable, so a robust financial model is needed. Getting the business case for a waste-to-energy plant right is what’s needed to kick-start the process,” concludes Mannie.

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