The recycling industry is in the habit of playing catch-up with the demands placed upon it. Chasing targets, complying with legislation from Westminster and Brussels, responding to consultationsthe workload seems to leave little space for thinking ahead.
But as Landfill Tax rises, and public opposition to incineration becomes more vocal, seeking alternatives to these old favourites is a must.
Compact Power claims to be operating the only commercial pyrolysis and gasification plant in the UK. A means of obtaining energy from waste, the emissions from the plant, which are significantly smaller than an incinerator producing comparable levels of energy, are well within pollution control standards. Pyrolysis, gasification and high temperature oxidation are used to convert a wide range of wastes to fuel gas and other usable products.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has accredited the process as a Best Practicable Environmental Option for the thermal destruction of waste, while it is the only UK plant operating under the Environment Agencys Integrated Prevention and Pollution Control regime.
Compact Powers technology is in its infancy, but is proving attractive to industries that produce difficult, often clinical waste streams. The pyrolysis plants, whose throughput capacity can range from 8,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) to 32,000tpa, are expensive to set up so priority is given to waste streams that have a positive gate fee.
As chief executive John Action explains: We do not have any long term contracts with customers at the moment, as were operating in a spot market, constantly pitching to potential clients. However we have been doing regular business with some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical and clinical industries.
Industrial waste streams such as meat and bone meal are common feedstock, as are used tyres and some municipal waste such as sewage sludge.
Compact Power is currently working on municipal projects in Cornwall and Scotland. Planning permission has been granted for a 60,000tpa plant in Dumfries, where the company is working to secure sufficient waste streams before going operational.
A similar project with County Environmental Services (CES) Cornwalls waste disposal company, involved an agreement between Compact Power and CES to submit a revised energy from waste application to the council; there had been strong public opposition to a previous application for an incinerator. John Acton insists that the publics perception of pyrolysis differs from incineration, reflected in the 3,000 visitors that the Avonmouth flagship plant has seen in the past 18 months.
Residues left over from stage one of the pyrolysisthermally degrading the hydrocarbons in the wastemay be reused in industry. Compact Power is working with Imperial College London to investigate possible end-uses for the inert residue, which include selling it back into the rubber industry as carbon feed, and then using it in the manufacture of building materials.
There are several legislative drivers which will, in the long term, help this technology to compete economically with landfillthe incremental rises in landfill tax will eventually make many waste streams cheaper to burn than bury. By 2010, 10% of electricity will have to be purchased from renewable sources, again pointing towards a bright future for the technology. In addition, the Government has also lent its support to pyrolysis by deeming the process eligible for Renewable Obligation Certificates which authenticate that the source of a given unit of electricity generation is from renewable energy. n