Capacity - how much is too much? - An overview from EfW Conference 2024

There was much to discuss at this year's Energy from Waste Conference in London. Izzy Felton recounts the debate around treatment capacity in the UK and a new CO2 pipeline in 'Capacity – how much is too much?'
Capacity - how much is too much? - An overview from EfW Conference 2024

When we spoke to Mike Maudsley, CEO of enfinium, about the importance of the Energy from Waste conference, he noted the great opportunity it provides for businesses to share solutions. “We are facing a range of challenges,” he said. “From upstream challenges such as reducing the UK’s growing waste pile or improving recycling rates to challenges at the other end of the chain – like decarbonising our fleet of energy from waste facilities or reducing the amount of waste going to landfill.”

So, it’s no surprise there was much to discuss at this year’s conference, with the Emissions Trading Scheme and carbon capture featuring in almost every session. But during day two, capacity was at the centre of one discussion. 

The talk began with a presentation from the National Infrastructure Commission's Senior Policy Advisor, James Harris, on the NIC’s second national infrastructure assessment and, importantly, its model for EfW pipeline networks across the UK.

The main recommendations from the NIC for carbon capture included the proposal of a core network aiming to transport hydrogen and carbon pipelines across the UK, connecting industrial hubs across England. NIC then called for the Government to set out its vision of the routes and sites a CO2 pipeline network would take.

When the NIC released its second assessment in October last year, many in the Energy from Waste sector welcomed the proposal. That feeling was echoed in this discussion; namely by the Chair of Resource Recovery UK and CEO of Encyclis, Owen Michaelson.

“When I saw [the NIC’s] second report come out, the one page that just jumped out to me was the pipeline page,” he said. He reasoned that this is because it recognises the need for a new national grid for CO2. “It is the only way we're going to decarbonise.”

Mr Michaelson also said that the network will help the UK deal with its own emissions and waste:

As a society, we should deal with our own waste within our own boundaries, and I feel all countries should do that.”

But the Secretary of the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO), Jarno Stet, reminded us that this does cost money. “Some of the biggest authorities in the UK are collapsing at the moment. Birmingham's bankrupt. London boroughs on the verge.” he said, and after the announcement of the EfW sector joining the Emissions Trading Scheme, it is unclear what new costs local authorities will have to take. If funding fell on the shoulders of local government, creating a pipeline could become a lot more complicated.

Mr Stet also noted that there is currently an unfair playing field – with treatment capacity in some areas significantly outweighing other parts of the country. “It’s not always possible to move waste easily between regions,” he said. “So, we need that capacity spread out over the UK to make sure that that market is well functioning effectively.”

The NIC’s October assessment is just the beginning of pipeline plans – a model highlighting what could potentially happen to create an effective pipeline in the UK. 

The modelling that we showed isn't exactly what's going to happen. Modelling is modelling," said Mr Harris. "What we were looking at is what can we achieve?

Mr Harris noted that the NIC’s plan doesn't even reach net zero, explaining that a net zero pipeline is realistically hard to achieve. “Instead, it shows us how we can cut emissions fastest, at the lowest cost.”

“I think that's why first and foremost the government needs to set out its vision for where the pipeline is going to be,” said Mr Harris. “You can imagine where it might be sensible for it to be located but there's no certainty about that. Once we know where the core pipeline is going to be, we can start planning the logistics”.

It seems plans for a CO2 pipeline are a welcome and necessary piece of infrastructure the UK needs to successfully decarbonise. But before this can become a reality, the Government needs to answer some big questions on location, funding and strategy. 

This talk was on day two of the 2024 Energy from Waste Conference in London and featured the following speakers:

  • James Harris, Senior Policy Advisor, National Infrastructure Commission
  • Owen Michaelson, CEO, Encyclis; Chair, RRUK
  • Andy Jones, Managing Director, Totus Environmental; Chair, RDF Industry Group
  • Jarno Stet, Secretary of the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO) 

If you attended the 2024 conference, you can find the slides of this year’s presentations here: 

If you cannot access the presentations - contact 

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