As the world navigates the energy transition, we continue to unlock the value of waste as a raw material in manufacturing a range of valuable, renewable products that will enable us to achieve net zero. Whilst traditional Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities largely produce electrical power, innovation now allow us to create sources of energy such as: liquid transport fuels for aviation, road and marine markets, petchem feedstocks for the circular economy, and renewable gases such as hydrogen and synthetic methane all from waste feedstocks.
As demand for renewables increases to achieve Net Zero, we look to transition from EfW to waste-to-x and accelerate projects that tackle waste issues and produce a variety of products that support a circular economy. However, the waste-to-x concept faces a myriad of challenges, such as how conventional waste management practices and the oil, gas and chemicals industries can come together to match specifications and requirements that will achieve reliable waste feedstocks, that support waste-to-x productions, and how the industry copes with outputs that are commodities and vary in value with the markets.
Greenergy is an established supplier and distributor of waste-based renewable transportations fuels, and Europe’s largest manufacturer of biodiesel from waste, operating three waste-to-diesel plants: two in the UK, at Immingham and on Teesside, and a third in Amsterdam. Founded over 30 years ago, Greenergy was the first to introduce supply of low emission diesel at UK forecourts and is continuing to support innovation of waste-derived renewables with projects ranging from end-of-life tyres to diesel and gasoline, waste-derived sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production to plastic pyrolysis. Greenergy’s operational experience, combined with their global supply chain, infrastructure and existing relationships within the waste management industry, means Greenergy is uniquely positioned within the evolving waste-to-x sector to overcome the challenges of realising projects.
A challenge for waste-to-x projects is matching waste industry specifications to the requirements of the technologies used in the production of fuels and chemicals. Waste feedstocks need to be very specific to not affect catalysts or equipment, and to create a consistent product that meets the requirement and exact specification needed for a renewable fuels or circular products.
Pre-treatment is a key part of any waste-to-x project, and is best controlled by the feedstock user, as the supplier may be unable to accommodate the strict control and specifications in their supply as results of different requirements in the waste management industry.
Technology development and scale-up
Pilot testing is essential to proof of concept and engineering, but also to test and identify any challenges within the feedstock processing and whole waste-to-x production that might impact commercial scale.
Scale is a significant challenge, and not one to underestimate as scaling-up requires high quality engineering, the technology readiness levels, market speed and demands to be balanced.
The development of waste-to-x will expose the waste industry to the commodity markets like never before. Production of liquid fuels will result in some form of matching to oil prices, this adds a new and significant risk. Furthermore, legislation and the logistics requirements need to be carefully considered, as well as access to terminals, cargos and end markets, which are resources, skills and experience that need to be factored into the strategic planning.
Environmental permits for new plants have a lengthy application process. Currently taking over a year to get to the process stage, this is another layer of regulations that can be difficult to overcome in bringing waste-derived and circular products to market. Regulatory support for projects that tackle waste problems would benefit innovation and the industry as a whole, as current regulations block the roll out and constrains the UK’s ability to keep up with international competition.
End of waste regulations can also hinder innovation and delay bringing new products to market. The process to receive End of Waste certifications for new products are difficult and lack industry standard specifications. This can stop bringing new products to market as there are no straight forward solutions without an industry standard specification of circular and waste-derived products.
The challenge in this growing and essential renewables market is not to slow down demand, and Greenergy continues to welcome new opportunities to develop innovative waste-to-x projects. Partnership and joint ventures will accelerate the waste-to-x industry, bringing more projects to a commercial scale. In every project there is a need for a feedstock supplier, technology and engineering, product off takers and investors. Greenergy continues to look at how industry can help solve waste issues and create renewable products that will decarbonise and support a circular economy. Working together across industries to tackle these issues ensures it will be possible to revolutionise industries, achieve net zero, and move into the next generation of waste management.