Burning trash while generating power, a long-term solution

Posted on September 15, 2011. Filed under: Waste |

-The Sun-

IN THE mid-afternoon June heat, XCN Technology Sdn Bhd executive director Caleb Khoo wiped sweat from his brow and asked: “Is the smell really bad?”

Not as bad as standing in a landfill in the scorching June heat, I said.

He laughed and proceeded to give the group of invited journalists a tour of the new RM68 million incinerator-cum-power generator that XCN Technology operates on 2.02ha of land in Kuah, on Langkawi island.

Behind large, steel doors sat rotting garbage, waiting to be turned into electricity.

Khoo said the concept of the facility is simple: garbage is shredded, sorted from recyclable materials and fed to the incinerator for combustion.

The incineration of waste fuels the generation of steam, which in turn, powers a turbine to generate electricity.

The Kuah plant, which is currently undergoing test runs, can generate up to 1 mega-Watt (MW) of electricity that will be connected to the Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) power grid.

There is one thing that separates this machine from the rest, Khoo said, mainly that combustion is near perfect, whereby a significant amount of substances inherent in the waste is stripped of pollutants.

The waste is burnt twice: the first burning process is conducted at 800 to 1,000 degrees Celsius and the secondary process is at a whopping 1,035° Celsius.

“The technology we developed involves a good mixture of air with the fuel to burn the waste,” he said.

According to tests done by the company, the smoke that emanates from the facility contains levels of pollutants like dioxin and sulphur dioxide that are far below those set by the Environment Department (DOE).

The dioxin and sulphur dioxide levels emitted is 0.0613 ng/Nm and 0.00263g/Nm, respectively, while the DOE permitted emission levels are 0.1ng/Nm and 0.2g/Nm respectively.

Once burnt, the waste is reduced to black ash that is collected and sent to a landfill about 10km away.

The custom-built facility can store up to 100 tonnes of waste per day, which is what Langkawi Island produces.

“Once the garbage is burnt, the volume is reduced by 95%,” Khoo said. The reduced volume helps to extend the life of the landfill by as much as 20 times.

Currently, the Kuah plant, which is designed to last for 20 years, has yet to receive clearance from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to begin operations.

“Once we get the clearance, we can start things going,” he said, adding that once operational, it will have 45 staff to run it.

The Fight for Garbage

“Everyone is fighting for garbage. There is a lot of money to be made from it,” XCN Technology executive director Mazeed Abdul Wahab told reporters after the tour.

This year alone, Kuala Lumpur City Hall allocated RM170 million solely for solid waste management.

But can technology alone emerge as Malaysia’s solid waste saviour, especially when there are many players vying for a piece of the waste pile?

The issue is especially pertinent in Selangor where the availability of land is a pressing matter.

But cost factors and technology reliability issues are preventing local councils from embracing power-generating incinerators.

Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water’s renewable energy national project team’s chief technical advisor Ahmad Hadri Haris said tipping fees for transporting garbage to an incinerator cost more than sending waste to a landfill.

“Local councils find that as a major inhibition,” he told theSun in an interview.

Transporting solid waste to a landfill only cost local councils between RM30 to RM80 per tonne.

However, the proposed fee to transport and properly dispose garbage using incinerators will cost local authorities almost double the normal rates, he said.

To counter this. the government has offered incentives to companies to adopt waste-to-power generation technology, namely via the feed-in-tarriffs in the new Renewable Energy 2010 Act.

Ahmad Hadri said the rates offered are reasonable.

For instance, the feed-in-tarriff for using municipal solid waste as an energy source is 41 sen per kilowatt hour.

“Companies can recover their operating costs within 10 years of operation,” he said.

To Adopt or Not To Adopt?

For local council heads, dealing with rubbish is a very real necessity, and the adoption of technology may be inevitable.

Kuala Lumpur mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Fuad Ismail said the problem with landfills lies in its concept.

“You cannot use the land for anything else but to store garbage,” he said, when contacted.

“Once it is fully utilised and work to rehabilitate the land is done, it takes a long time for the land to recover.

“We cannot run away from using other technologies besides landfills, considering the circumstances that we face,” he added.

He also said the transportation costs for solid waste is increasing with the hike in fuel prices.

Therefore, Ahmad Fuad is optimistic about the future of utilising incinerators for efficient garbage disposal.

“In 20 years’ time, the technology and safety aspects will improve,” he said.

“The main stumbling block to using the technology, besides land shortage and the cost, is public opinion,” he added.

Petaling Jaya City Council president Datuk Roslan Sakiman, however, was less enthusiastic about the technology.

Although he agrees that Malaysia needs alternatives to landfills, he said the main problem to the implementation of incinerators is that Malaysians do not sort their rubbish.

“If household waste is not segregated, the incinerator will fail,” he said, adding that it’s one of the reasons we cannot have incinerators.

Also, local authorities do not understand the technology and what is required from the local councils for smooth operations.

“There needs to be education on these things,” he said.

There is no denying that solid waste management in the country needs feasible alternatives, and using incinerators to generate power may be the way to go.

But it will take concerted efforts by all parties to overcome public perception and cost factors that hamper the prospects of the technology taking root here.

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