Best use of waste biomass in a low carbon economy

Posted in: biofuels

This article explores the potential low-carbon uses of residual waste streams often destined to incineration, and looks at alternative technologies which can generate power, heat and low-carbon drop-in liquid fuels.

In March, Defra’s Minister of State for Food Farming and Fisheries, issued a Direction to the Environmental Agency to temporarily pause environmental permitting decisions on new waste incineration facilities. It was stated this was to allow Defra officials to “further consider the role of waste incineration in the management of wastes in England”. This was instigated in response to Ministerial concerns as to whether incineration of waste was compatible with the Governments net zero strategy and a wish to encourage greater waste prevention.

Now that coal has been virtually eliminated from the UK electricity generation mix, this focuses greater attention on the impacts of burning residual waste streams which now generate the highest carbon footprints for power generation, due to the fossil derived contaminants in the feedstock. Around 50% of the residual waste stream comprises fossil sources of carbon. Incineration of mixed residual waste streams has to date been the major route of disposal. Around 12-13 million tonnes of residual waste are left after recycling in England and Wales, with increasing costs associated with disposing of this into landfill due to rising landfill tax rates.

Coincidently, in parallel to this announcement, the UK’s Department for Transport has announced that following Parliamentary Approval of the Energy Bill, it expects to extend support under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) to recycled carbon fuels (RCFs) from 1 May this year. These are fuels derived from the fossil portion of residual waste or from capture and use of gaseous CO2 waste streams. The importance of this is that it now provides an additional incentive for around half of the output from any advanced renewable fuel production process that uses mixed residual waste as a feedstock.

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This article was written by David Turley, Lead Consultant for Biofuels.

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