February 19, 2007

Air & Waste Management Association Conference: Experts examine evolving approaches to managing waste

Evolving approaches to waste management in Canada and abroad were the focus of a recent Air and Waste Management Association conference in Toronto. "International Process and Technology Innovations for Effective Waste Management" examined the roles and interactions among the different levels of government with responsibilities in this area, as well as projects being carried out by both public and private sector organizations.

An overview of the federal role in managing non-hazardous solid waste was provided by Nabila Elsaadi of Environment Canada's waste management division, who outlined the provisions of the proposed federal regulations for the import and export of non-hazardous wastes destined for final disposal. Work on these regulations, she said, has been under way since 2000, with multi-stakeholder consultations conducted at varying points in the development process.

The regulations provide a framework which will allow implementation of a prior informed consent mechanism relating to non-hazardous wastes, as mandated under the Basel Convention, to which Canada is a signatory nation. Included in the framework are requirements and provisions governing notification of Environment Canada regarding imports/exports; the obtaining of export permits; tracking and reporting (including annual reporting of movements between Canada and the U.S.); documentation of movements for shipments between Canada and other Basel Convention signatory countries; and confirmation of final disposal. Specific time periods are stipulated for completing disposal once waste shipments reach their final destination, and the regulations include a prohibition on export of wastes to the Antarctic.

Elsaadi noted that the types of solid non-hazardous waste to which the regulatory controls would apply are defined as residential waste (from both single-family and multi-family housing); industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) waste; and waste from municipal litter bins, as well as municipal solid waste incinerator ash. These regulations would not apply to wastes from industrial processes; construction and demolition waste sanitary sewage treatment plant sludge; and wastes with hazardous characteristics (e.g. flammable, corrosive, poisonous, etc). As set out in the regulations, the definitions are intended to conform with Basel provisions.

Environment Canada is currently reviewing comments from the most recent round of consultations and will be posting a summary of this feedback on the CEPA (Canadian Environmental Protection Act) registry. It is expected that a final draft of the regulations will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part I during the 2007-08 fiscal year for a 60-day comment period, with final publication in the Canada Gazette, Part II to follow in 2008-09.

Advanced technological facilities and processes for converting waste into a valuable resource have been steadily gaining ground both in terms of number and public acceptance. In Ottawa, for example, Plasco's gasification system, currently under construction, will convert 80% of the heat value in solid waste to gas, Rod Bryden, president and CEO of the Plasco Energy Group, told the conference. This will yield 110 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per megajould of energy in the waste, he said.

The facility will be capable of processing 100 tonnes per day of waste, although it is approved for up to 85 tpd. This will translate to 16,500 megajoules of energy, in turn producing 1.4 megawatts (MW) of power, enough to supply a single household for nearly two months.

The facility processes encompass 16 steps, including gasification of solid waste, gas refining plasma, and ash melting plasma (for vitrification of residues in to a product suitable for use as aggregate). In addition, said Bryden, each tonne of waste processed yields five kilograms of pure powder sulfur which can be used as a soil enhancement. Other byproducts per tonne of processed waste include one kilogram of heavy metals and particulates. Effluent from the facility will meet water quality standards, although it will be slightly salty, he noted.

Added advantages of the Plasco system include greenhouse gas reduction (3.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per tonne of waste processed) and lower treatment costs, mainly due to the fact that the system uses no outside energy, drawing instead on the energy it produces.

The system, expected to begin generating power this May, is capable of handling all types of solid waste, although certain types are considered unsuitable, specifically wastes with little or no energy value and those with higher value as recycled material. Tipping fees at the Plasco operation are expected to range from $60 to $75 per tonne, Bryden said.

Up-and-coming waste-derived fuel projects in Toronto's neighbouring regions of Peel (to the west) and Durham (to the east) will demonstrate effective management of post-diversion residuals. David Merriman, of MacViro Consultants, described the Dongara process being tested in York Region, and the AmbientEco system being tested in Peel Region.

The end product of the Dongara system is EnerPax, a dense fuel pellet with a moisture content of less than 10% and an energy value approaching 9,000 Btu per pound. Merriman said the EnerPax pellets could potentially be substituted for coal as fuel in cement kilns, providing a less polluting energy source.

The Dongara process begins by debagging and sorting residuals to remove bulky items, then sorts the material by size. Recyclables, including ferrous and non-ferrous metals and #1 and #2 plastics, are recovered before the remaining waste is shredded and "fiberized" to remove moisture.

The AmbientEco system proceeds through similar steps , leading to a cereal flake-sized end product, termed "fluff." AmbientEco has signed an agreement with Peel Region to build a 16,000 tonne-per-year demonstration plant at the Caledon landfill site. Merriman said no construction date has been set yet. One of the main challenges associated with this project will be getting approval for combustion or gasification of the EnerPax fuel product, he added.

Of interest is the fact that the Ontario Ministry of Environment is considering requests by Dongara and by Arbour Power, a prospective user of Enerpax pellets, for exemptions from provisions of the provincial Environmental Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act.

Dongara has asked to have prospective Enerpax users exempted from mandatory hearing requirements under the EP Act, while Arbour Power has requested that its proposed gasification facility in Ajax be exempt from the EA Act requirements and instead follow a screening process similar to the requirements of Ontario regulation 116/01-Electricity Projects.

To accommodate these requests, the MOE would have to create two new regulations, one under each act. The Ministry has already issued certificates of approval for air and waste for the Dongara processing facility in Vaughan, where the Enerpax pellets will be produced. (More information is available on the provincial EBR registry, http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/envregistry/028766er.htm.

Edmonton's integrated Waste Management Centre, situated on 550 acres northwest of the city, offers a full range of services, including the largest composting operation in North America, with a processing capacity of 180,000 tonnes per year, facility manager Jim Schubert said. In additionto composting, the Centre's activities include a materials recycling facility (MRF), a transfer station, a landfill (slated to close in 2009-10), landfill gas and leachate collection and treatment systems, and a research and development facility (a public-private partnership).

Of the 240,000 tonnes per year of municipal solid waste (MSW) handled at the Centre, 20,000 tonnes are landfilled, said Schubert. Gasification is being considered as an addition to the Centre largely because the syngas it produces can be used to power a wide range of equipment such as engines and boilers. On the down side, however, he noted, it is a complex, multi-step process that needs a consistent feedstock supply.

After an initial screening report, in which 150 technologies were examined and narrowed down to a short list of 11, Enerkem Technologies, based in Sherbrooke, Quebec, was selected to construct a pilot facility. Factors in its favour included the fact that it was the lowest-cost option, it is a Canadian technology with an existing commercial operation, noted Schubert.

As a first stage in the facility development, a pelletization project was carried out by the Alberta Research Council. The waste-derived pellets produced were tested at the Enerkem pilot facility. This led to the second stage, a waste-to-fuel project with Enerkem. Modifications to the feed system have been made to allow the use of the pellets and waste-derived "fluff" in the Enerkem gasification process.

The next step will be a full-scale demonstration facility for gasification of municipal solid waste. This plant, expected to cost $87 million, will be capable of handling 10,000 tonnes per year of processed residues, generation between 10 and 12 MW of elecricity. Under a public-private partnership arrangement, Enerkem will license the technology, Epcor will own and operate the integrated gasification and power production facility, while the city of Edmonton will own and operation the waste processing and transfer facilities.

One of the world's largest, most efficient waste-fired power plants is due to begin operating in mid-2007 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Harry de Waart, of Afval Energie Bedvijf (AEB), said the facility, being built for the city of Amsterdam Waste and Energy Company, will have a throughput of 1.5 million tonnes per year of MSW. With a net electricity efficiency of over 30%, it will contribute to reducing CO2 emissions by 600,000 tonnes per year.

The fourth-generation plant incorporates approximately 30 innovations, many of them patented and marketable, de Waart noted. Among these are improved flue gas cleaning technology for removal of dioxins and furans and more extensive recycling of final residues.

For example, recovered metals are sent as scrap for eventual re-use in new products; bottom ash is used as a sand substitute in roadbuilding; and flyash is used as a filler in asphalt. As a result, said de Waart, only one kilogram of material requires final disposal for every tonne of waste processed, and AEB is working to reduce this amount even further.

Ontario is still trucking 3.25 million tonnes per year of waste to the U.S., a country becoming increasingly paranoid about border security, Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, told the conference. And although the province's acquisition of the Green Lane landfill is about to close, we still have no real idea of the cost of alternative disposal options. In fact, he said, Ontario still lacks a comprehensive waste management strategy.

The province did not achieve its target of 50% waste diversion by 2000 and it is clear that the 60% diversion by 2008 target will not be met, either, Miller pointed out. The Blue Box program will allow single-family residences to meet the target, but waste diversion from multi-unit residences and from industrial, commercial and institutional (IC&I) sources remains a problem to be addressed. There will still be 40% of Ontario's waste needing a place to go. The 12-million-tonne capacity available at the Green Lane landfill provides an adequate short-term solution, but large-scale disposal options are still needed, he said.

At this point, Miller continued, three "troublesome" options present themselves: the pursuit of "zero waste;" development of mega-landfills; and thermal destruction/energy from waste (EFW). Significant challenges and issues are associated with each of these.

Zero-waste is a full life-cycle option, encompassing concepts such as waste prevention and design for re-use, as well as reduction, recycling and further diversion of all waste. In a global marketplace, this is difficult to achieve, although packaging controls exist in many areas. In Ontario, however, Miller said all attempts by Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) to extend waste diversion have so far been unsuccessful.

Landfill issues are all too familiar: in addition to increasing size requirements, methane and leachate must be controlled, and liner life and operation problems dealt with. Use of land for landfill amounts to a permanent disposition of land, with an unfunded future liability, posing the question of fairness to future generations.

Energy from waste, noted Miller, was originally intended to close the materials cycle, taking residuals out of the waste stream for productive use. The fourth "R" was "recovery" and was quickly set aside as an option. This, he said, should be reconsidered.

EFW facilities with full pollution controls are expensive, he acknowledged, although in Europe, EFW is less costly than landfill-exactly the opposite to the situation in Ontario. Here, he said, acceptance of EFW is hindered by a legacy of poorly managed facilities, ineffectively monitored and inadequately inspected. The Ministry of Environment still has few resources to improve this capacity.

In addition, emission abatement technology has vastly improved over the past 25 years, but this is not widely understood or recognized, leaving EFW with little public credibility. Public confidence in this option needs to be regained, said Miller.

He added that the environmental assessment process implies the use of greenfield space and an open siting process; EFW operations are industrial facilities and should be situated on lands zoned for industrial use to begin with, he stated. Also, an EFW facility should never undermine the waste reduction and materials recovery provisions of the overall waste management system.

Other measures supporting EFW should include mandatory material-specific targets, packaging regulations, source separation and reduction in the IC&I sector, and a deposit-return system if necessary, Miller said.

Ultimately, what is needed is an overall strategic approach, incorporating full public buy-in. A proposal for an integrated waste management strategy, put forth in 2006 by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) would be a good start, he noted. Both the material value and the energy value of waste should have to be optimized, and the process of winning public confidence, including consultations, should begin as soon as possible.

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