Combustion plants in the Nordic countries are often more efficient than in the UK due to district heating production.
Combustion plants in the Nordic countries are often more efficient than in the UK due to district heating production.

- Energy recovery in the UK needs to become more efficient

April 3, 2023
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The energy recovery industry in the UK will play a major part in producing much-needed energy in the future. But the industry needs to reach better incineration efficiency to meet targets to achieve net zero and international sustainability standards. "The lack of district heating makes the UK EfW plants less efficient than the Nordic plants", says Country Manager for Geminor UK, Oliver Caunce.

Energy recovery is a growing industry in the UK and the players in the market have become increasingly important in times of energy crisis in Europe. The latest data released by the agency Footprint Services shows that in 2021, just over 15 million tons of secondary fuels were used in a total of 53 WtE facilities in the UK. The plants added a total of 1.8 GWh of energy to society during the same year. Waste to energy recovery has increased by as much as 400% since 2006, a growth rate unmatched by any other European country.

Yet the efficiency of UK plants has not yet reached its full potential. This needs to be increased to contribute towards carbon neutrality and the ambitious emissions targets in Europe, says CM of Geminor UK, Oliver Caunce.

- There has not been enough focus on harnessing heat energy in the form of district heating and industrial steam in the UK. Currently, the generators for electricity production, combined with heat production, only provide a utilization rate of about 60 percent in the UK energy recovery market. Where the system includes district heating, the potential is closer to 100 percent," says Oliver Caunce.

Oliver Caunce is CM at Geminor UK.

In comparison, many of the Scandinavian EfW plants are fully adapted for the production of both district heating and steam as energy for businesses. This is not only more efficient, but it also reduces the carbon footprint.

- Need to increase efficiency

As waste volumes in the UK decline, competition for waste resources in the Union is becoming fiercer. After many years of growth, the UK is now facing a decline in total tonnage, which in turn has led to a decline in exports of RDF and SRF. Over time, the UK market could move from being an exporting to an importing market for waste to energy recovery - much in the same direction as both Germany and Finland are developing today.

"With the likely introduction of the ETS allowance system in the UK in 2026 - which will add an extra cost of around €40 per ton when incinerated - UK incinerators are forced to dramatically increase their efficiency to be competitive," says Oliver Caunce.

- "To be competitive, incineration of custom waste such as RDF must be as sustainable in the UK as it is in the Nordics. Only then will it be justifiable to create energy in the UK, and not export the waste to other markets. But to get there we need a leap in the efficiency of plants in this country," concludes Oliver Caunce, CM at Geminor UK.