Interview with Patrick Clerens: Navigating the Future of Waste-to-Energy through CCS, ETS, and Social Acceptance

ESWET explore the integration of CCS in WtE, the role of ETS, social factors, cost implications, and achieving decarbonisation in changing economic times through an insightful interview with Patrick Clerens, Secretary-General of ESWET.
Interview with Patrick Clerens: Navigating the Future of Waste-to-Energy through CCS, ETS, and Social Acceptance
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The transition towards sustainable energy solutions is pivotal in combating climate change, with Waste-to-Energy (WtE) plants playing a significant role. Incorporating Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies in these facilities presents an innovative pathway to decarbonisation. We explore the integration of CCS in WtE, the role of the Emission Trading System (ETS), social factors, cost implications, and achieving decarbonisation in changing economic times through an insightful interview with Patrick Clerens, Secretary-General of ESWET, the European association representing the suppliers of Waste-to-Energy technology.

The Role and Challenges of CCS in WtE

Q: Could you elaborate on the significance of CCS for WtE plants?

A: A coal power plant can switch to gas or biomass to reduce emissions. We have a mandate to treat the residual waste streams to recover the unrecyclable and to minimise the environmental impact of this waste. Therefore, CCS stands as a crucial technology for WtE plants, pushing them towards net-zero or even net-negative emissions. By capturing biogenic CO2, we not only mitigate emissions but also align with circular economy principles. It's about transforming waste management into a clean energy solution, a notion supported by the IPCC's acknowledgment of WtE's potential for net-negative emissions.

Q: What are the primary obstacles in implementing CCS projects in WtE facilities?

A: The challenges range from the technological readiness of CCS solutions and the spatial constraints of WtE plants to the logistics of transporting and storing captured carbon. Overcoming these hurdles requires innovative thinking and strategic planning to realise CCS's full potential in the WtE sector.

Policy, ETS, and Financial Frameworks

Q: How could policies facilitate the adoption of CCS in WtE?

A: A clear regulatory framework is essential, including certification processes, financial incentives, and prioritisation of hard-to-abate sectors like WtE. Supportive policies could significantly lower the barriers to entry for CCS technologies in this field.

Q: Can the current ETS effectively support the integration of CCS in WtE plants?

A: The ETS plays a pivotal role by setting a price on carbon emissions, thereby incentivising reductions. However, for CCS and particularly BECCS (Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage), aligning cost structures with ETS prices is vital. The system must evolve to recognise and support the specific needs of CCS-equipped WtE plants, including potential updates to account for carbon removals.

Social Acceptance and Economic Viability

Q: How do social factors influence the deployment of CCS in WtE plants?

A: Public acceptance is crucial. The perception of CCS varies, with concerns about safety, costs, and effectiveness. Transparent communication and community engagement are key to addressing these concerns, emphasising CCS's role in climate mitigation and sustainable waste management.

Q: Who should bear the costs associated with CCS in WtE, and how can we ensure economic viability?

A: When the EU Commission proposed the 2040 climate target of GHG emissions reduction by 90% compared to 1990 levels , the following wording was included: “…the post-2030 policy framework should include adequate policy measures to ensure affordable energy prices and access to decarbonised solutions. Redistributive measures will be essential to address social impacts so that no one is left behind.”

One option to cover the costs of CCS in Waste-to-Energy plants could be to adhere to the Polluter Pays Principle, underscoring that those who produce non-recyclable waste, requiring  carbon capture, should also contribute financially to its management, including the adoption of CCS technologies. This principle suggests that costs be fairly distributed among all stakeholders, including the public sector, industry players, and possibly consumers. This distribution aims to ensure that the financial burden of environmental and climate impacts from waste management is shared equitably, without disproportionately impacting citizens. Innovative financing models, subsidies, and incentives can enhance economic viability. It's about creating a sustainable ecosystem that supports the initial investments and operational costs of CCS technologies.

Patrick Clerens spoke at this year’s Energy from Waste Conference in London. If you attended the 2024 conference, you can find the slides of this year’s presentations here.

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