Conflicting views on the benefits and cost-effectiveness of CCUS

Research by consultancy group Eunomia suggests that using carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology on EfW facilities could be cheaper than expected and could underpin the UK’s Net Zero strategy, but this conflicts with Zero Waste Europe's view that CCUS is a 'distraction' to a circular economy.
Conflicting views on the benefits and cost-effectiveness of CCUS

Waste incineration for energy recovery is often heavily criticised in some quarters, not least because it is generally agreed that waste to energy plants release an average of around 1 tonne of CO2 for every tonne of waste incinerated. Two recent reports published by environmental consultancy group Eunomia and Zero Waste Europe disagree over the environmental and cost-saving benefits of CCUS at EfW plants.

Eunomia’s research suggests deployment of CCUS on EfW presents a significant opportunity to not only provide a viable route to decarbonising a key part of the waste sector and deliver negative emissions, but for the waste sector to help drive wider deployment of CCUS at scale in the UK.  According to the report, the cost of carbon capture from EfW could be as much as 15% lower than the cheapest alternative and by 2030, up to 5 million tonnes of carbon a year could be captured and stored from treating non-recyclable waste at EfW facilities across Britain.

For Andrew Coulthurst, Senior Consultant at Eunomia: “The deployment of CCUS has the potential to form a key part of the waste sector’s strategy to reach net zero by 2050, and our research demonstrates there is a credible development pathway for CCUS in the EfW sector. Many EfW facilities in the UK are ideally located within close proximity of potential CCUS Clusters or port hubs that should make the deployment of CCUS on EfW at least as cost-effective as other sectors."

Renewable energy and waste management company Viridor have welcomed the Eunomia report and will now factor its findings into their sector-leading decarbonisation ambition, which outlines how the company will reach net zero by 2040 and be climate positive by 2040. The business will likewise actively review its ambition on CCUS deployment at EfW sites across the UK.

Dr Tim Rotheray, Viridor’s Director of ESG and external affairs, said: “The UK has a major opportunity to become a world leader in CCUS but to date sources of stable, cost-effective carbon capture technology have been a key barrier. This latest research has revealed the until now unseen scale of opportunity that the UK's waste sector could bring to CCUS.

“The number of sites processing non-recyclable waste, and the opportunity to capture 5 million tonnes of CO2 and potentially offer the lowest cost capture in the industrial sector, presents real hope for an accelerated rollout of CCUS across the economy, a technology the UK is dependent on to meet its Net Zero commitments.”

Yet, a report published by Zero Waste Europe takes a conflicting view that incinerating material that could be reduced, reused or recycled is incompatible with the principles of the circular economy.

Janek Vähk, Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Coordinator, says: “EU Innovation Funds should focus on innovative zero waste business models to cut down on residual waste and climate emissions instead of supporting projects that could further exacerbate the lock-in effect of incinerators and the generation of waste”.

For Zero Waste Europe, changing waste management practices to ensure materials are continually cycling through the economy avoids leakages of components into residual waste treatments and delivers significant climate change benefits. Diverting material from incineration would deliver lower carbon outcomes for much less money, and with much less risk.

The 2022 EfW Conference will be incorporating discussions and debates on CCS technology as a key part of the programme with a wide range of speakers contributing - more information here.