Understanding Waste to Energy Plants

Context – The Kerala government recently announced the State’s first waste to energy project in Kozhikode. The planned facility is expected to be built in two years and generate about 6 MW of power.

What is it? 

  • Waste to energy projects use nonrecyclable dry waste to generate electricity
  • Waste-to-Energy is a technologically advanced means of waste disposal that is widely recognized for reducing greenhouse gasesparticularly methane—by eliminating emissions from landfills.

Why Waste to Energy?

  • High CO2 emissions: Almost all the carbon content in the waste that is burned for WtE is emitted as carbon dioxide, which is one of the most notable greenhouse gases.
  • Urban waste generation ~ 62 million tonnes every year. Municipal solid waste to energy market is growing at ~ 9.5%. 
  • FAO estimates that more than 40% of food produced is wasted in India. Organic waste has significant portion in overall waste generation in industrial/urban/ agricultural sector and therefore it can be used for energy generation.
  • Avoids landfilling.
  • Resource recovery  : Another benefit of waste-to-energy over landfilling is the opportunity to recover valuable resources such as metals post-incineration.
  • Renewable source of energy – The total estimated energy generation potential from urban and industrial organic waste in India is approximately 5690 MW.
  • New business opportunity with appropriate technology and government incentive. 
  • International expansion possibilities for Indian companies, especially expansion into other Asian countries.
  • Success in municipal solid waste management will lead to opportunities in sewage waste, industrial waste and hazardous waste by development of new technology. 

According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, there exists a potential of about:1700 MW from urban waste 1300 MW from industrial waste.

As per Centre for Science and Environment nearly half of India’s waste-to-energy (WTE) plants are defunct.

Problems of WTE Plants

  • Inefficiency – Municipal solid waste (MSW) in India
    • Has low calorific value and high moisture content
    • Are unsegregated having high inert content. 
  • Pollution –  Carcinogenic chemicals are released due to chlorinated hydrocarbons like PVC.
  • High cost of electricity generated by waste. WTE ~ Rs 7/kWh; coal ~ Rs 3-4 per kWh
  • Technologies like bio-methanation are imported.
  • Protest and criticism – e.g: against the Okhla WTE plant in Delhi for polluting the environment.

Way Forward 

  • Compliance of Municipal Solid Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules, 2000– to ensure segregated solid waste. 
  • Compliance of Waste Management rules 2022 to phase out Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) 
  • Strengthening Municipal Corporations – financial and human resource. 
  • PPP model for WTE plants as recommended by Task force on WtE headed by K Kasturirangan.
  • Spreading awareness – Protection and improvement of our environment as envisaged in Article 51 A(g) of our Constitution.

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