CEWEP’s Lighea Speziale on Potential Incoming Waste to Energy Emission Regulations : IN DEPTH: A BREF Guide to EU Waste to Energy Emission Changes

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The first draft of the Waste Incineration Best Available Techniques Reference Documents was published in May. CEWEP’s Scientific and Technical Officer, Lighea Speziale, throws some light on the Situation.

The Industrial Emission Directive (IED, Directive 2010/75/EU) sets the current legal framework for environmental performances of industrial installations. It is the result of a merge of different pieces of legislation previously adopted (IPPC 1996, WID 2000, LCP 2001, etc.). The directive stands on the principle to prevent if possible, or at least to reduce pollution, ensuring a high level of protection of the environment as a whole.

To achieve these objectives, the directive requires that environmental permits for industrial installations be based on Best Available Techniques (BAT) as determined in BAT reference documents (BREFs) and specifically their BAT Conclusions, which have undergone a review since 2010.

The directive also requires that within four years of publication of decisions on BAT Conclusions in accordance with Art. 13.5, the competent authority shall ensure that all the permit conditions are reconsidered and updated to ensure compliance with said BAT Conclusions.

Whereas the BREFs published before 2010 were seen as a general description of what can be achieved with certain technologies, there was no sanction if the described emission levels were not kept all the time. The new BAT conclusions, however, will become legally binding, so the consequences will dramatically change.

On 24th May 2017, the EIPPCB published the first draft (D1) of reviewed WI BREF, which at the moment includes in its scope the disposal or recovery of waste in waste incineration plants for non-hazardous waste with a capacity exceeding 3 tonnes per hour, and for hazardous waste with a capacity exceeding 10 tonnes per day.

Once the review is completed, the environmental permits of all the installations covered by the WI BREF will have to be updated accordingly within four years.

The WI sector has already complied with the most stringent environmental regulation for more than 10 years. Sometimes the emissions are even at such low levels that it is difficult to measure them with the appropriate accuracy. The concept of BATs follows the idea that technologies applied in the different industrial sectors develop and improve in time.

In order to show the progress made towards better environmental protection, BREFs have to be updated every 8 years. Naturally, as the approach of the IED and BREFs is to look at the environment as a whole, including all cross-media effects, assessing the areas that need to be updated is an important task at the beginning of BREF reviews.

The Seville Process

The so-called “Seville process” is described in Commission Implementing Decision 2012/119/EU and its main pillars are the exchange of information among the TWG members and the collection of operational data from the concerned installation through means of a questionnaire. The review of WI BREF started in June 2014 with the reactivation of the TWG and the call to express initial positions.

Both the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants (CEWEP) and the European Suppliers of Waste-to-Energy Technology (ESWET), alongside other associations involved in the sector, started their shadow groups in 2012, since the work required to provide constructive and useful feedback and guarantee the feasibility of using the reviewed WI BAT conclusions as legal basis for permits is extensive and detailed.

Most of the preparatory work focused on the specificities of the WI sector and its existing legal requirements: mainly how to deal with the massive amount of emissions data available for collection and the consequences of the interactions between IED Annex VI and WI BREF.

After the EIPPCB received the expressions of initial position from TWG members, the Kick-off Meeting (KoM) of WI BREF Review was organised. This meeting took place in Seville in January 2015 and its purpose was to produce a set a conclusions to be used as guidance.

However, after collecting data and opinion from TWG members, the EIPPCB, somewhat confusingly, included in D1 also BATAELs (BAT Associated Emission Levels) for pollutants that were not considered Key Environmental Issues (KEI). Draft D1 therefore required that:

For key pollutants, both the higher and the lower ends of the proposed BATAEL ranges are based on the analysis of the collected plant-specific data;

For non-key pollutants for which an emission limit value (ELV) is set in the IED, only the lower end of the proposed BATAEL range is based on the analysis of the collected plant-specific data, the higher end is set at the IED Annex VI’s ELV

For non-key pollutants for which no ELV is set in the IED, no BATAELs are proposed.

Overall, WI BREF D1 includes requirements for emissions to air that are mirroring IED Annex VI with respect to the list of substances controlled. In terms of values proposed for the BATAELs (i.e. the basis for future limits in permits) the requirements are always stricter than IED Annex VI.

Item 5 of the previous list [U1] is a topic that industrial associations have been putting on the table since the beginning of the review, asking for legal certainty and alignment among the different pieces of legislation. The issue seems to be a perfect case for the Better Regulation principle so dear to the current European Commission: since the IED is the result of a merge of different directives, it contains some general rules as well as specific regimes for the different sectors involved.

For waste incineration, the reference section is Annex VI (transposing the requirements of the former Waste Incineration Directive), where it is clearly stated that the continuously monitored substances have to comply with their limits in what is called “effective operating time (excluding the start-up and shut-down periods if no waste is being incinerated)”.

This special regime differs from the other sectors because generally speaking emissions are checked in so-called Normal Operating Conditions (NOC). Considering the total operating time of a plant, NOC are a subset of the larger period that is Effective Operating Time (EOT). The practical consequences of this special regime are that WI permits are written with Emission Limit Values (ELVs) referring to EOT. Therefore all reported emissions from WI plants refer to EOT. This is one of the reasons why the WI sector is considered one of the most stringently regulated.

Ultimately the take of the EIPPCB on this issue seems to be that WI lines do not show differences when looking at NOC or EOT patterns and therefore the BATAELs proposed in WI BREF D1 could apply to either set of operating conditions. Unfortunately, there is no clear explanation of this line in D1, but by analysing the background documents and graphs provided and given the lack of reference to either NOC or EOT, this is what one has to conclude.

Implications for Operators?

WI BREF D1 is a document of almost 1000 pages, covering all the aspects that are useful to understand how BATs for waste incineration work. However, the main focus is of course on the so-called BAT Conclusions.

BAT Conclusions have to work as a stand-alone document, as this will be the only legally binding part and also the only chapter that will be translated in the official languages of the EU. The rest of WI BREF and the massive amount of contextual and background documents produced during the review will not play the same role once the review is over.

D1 BAT Conclusions are at the moment falling short on this objective of being a stand-alone document. Some important assumptions and clarifications are missing, which will be a cause of confusion in the future. The mission of the EU is to make legislation simple, understandable and applicable by all stakeholders, and also to set a level playing field within the EU. This should always be kept in mind when analysing the quality of BAT Conclusions.

If one compares ELVs from the IED with the BATAELs proposed in D1 then it is clear that the upper end of the proposed D1 BATAELs is always lower or equal than the relative ELV in the IED and the lower end of the proposed D1 BATAELs is always significantly lower. Therefore, the proposed legally binding values in D1 are stricter than the current legally binding IED values. They are thus quite ambitious.

This shows how the legislation moves towards better environmental standards, and the WI sector has always been proud of the ambitious environmental requirements it complies with. What is currently missing is the framework to apply the new rules in future permits: implementation issues are a matter for EU Member States and not for EU institutions, but if the general goal is better regulation and a general harmonisation among EU countries, then this aspect cannot be completely ignored.

As everyone knows, a measurement provided without background on the parameters relative to it is technically meaningless. And this becomes a serious problem when we are working on a data-driven document such as the BREF. So what is missing to obtain a clear picture and actual stand-alone BAT Conclusions?

The operating conditions to which these new ranges of emission standards refer are not clarified. Standard procedure for BREFs is that BATAELs do not need to have an explicit reference to NOC because it is 100% consistent with the requirements of the IED. However, for the WI sector we already pointed out that Annex VI refers to EOT for the compliance of continuously monitored emissions to air. When permitting authorities will have WI BAT Conclusions in their hands, it will provide clarity to find explicitly written that the BATAELs refer in fact to NOC. Moreover, there is no mention of the monitoring issue that has been considered critical by the industry since the emission levels reached by WI plants are incredibly low.

Once the measured values are so close to zero, the relative uncertainty of the measurement (which has a dedicated requirement in the IED for the WI sector) increases significantly. The fallout of this issue is twofold: on the one hand, the data collected from WI plants to derive BATAELs are associated with higher relative uncertainty than normally considered. On the other hand, these values will be used to set future emission limit values which have to respect relative uncertainty requirements, as laid down in the IED and not as developed during the BREF review.

When requirements from two different pieces of legislation (WI BAT conclusions and IED Annex VI) are used at the same time, one should always check their consistency. This has not been done.


Going more in detail on some of the specific proposals contained in D1 BAT Conclusions, it is worth noticing that the EIPPCB introduced new requirements to reduce dust emission for the treatment of bottom ashes and slags, but using very general descriptions that raise several questions (see BAT 27): for example, the treatment of extracted air with a bag filter is not needed in case of wet bottom ash treatment facilities, that have to comply with wastewater restrictions, and there[U2] will be technical issues with fan and ducts to generate negative pressure in presence of fine particles and water vapour.

When it comes to energy efficiency and the important aspect of correct definitions, the parameters to assess energy efficiency of a WI plant are gross electricity efficiency and gross heat efficiency, depending on whether the plant is mainly oriented towards the production of electricity or heat. However, these definitions are too general, and do not correspond to what was requested by the operators during data collection. Best Available Techniques – Associated Energy Efficiency Levels (BATAEEL), the range of energy efficiency levels which the plants will have to comply with, are based on what operators provided and the definitions in BAT Conclusions must fit the cases and formulas used to calculate these values.

One clear example is the lack of reference to the type of turbine (backpressure or condensing) that was crucial in the calculation of the efficiency in the data collection phase.

Last but not least, the use of footnotes under BATAELs tables to state that lower ends can be “achieved” by applying a specific technique does not provide proper guidance for two reasons: first, achieving an emission values does not necessarily mean that that value can be used 1:1 as a limit value and secondly, the choice of specific technique follows a complex procedure where local drivers also play an important role. For example, choosing SCR over SNCR is an important decision that has to account for cross-media effects: SCR may reach lower NOx emissions, but the plant will consume more energy and more reagents. The natural complexity of technology is completely missed when sentences like the one highlighted oversimplify the question.


How the revised WI BAT Conclusion will impact the WI sector is hard to judge at the moment as the framework surrounding the draft proposal is not really clarified. The sector has always strived towards improved performances for environmental protection and is at this point asking for an unambiguous document that will actually be helpful in achieving this objective.

A confusing legal framework will not provide environmental benefits; instead it will create additional bureaucratic burden and higher risk of legal debates over compliance issues. Ignoring the issue of measurement uncertainty will have impacts on calibration of monitoring instruments and their reliability. Although it is a very complex topic, the reputation and credibility of stakeholders involved is also based on the soundness of the data provided, and this should not be compromised for the sake of speeding up the process.

Final Thoughts

Once adopted, this document will have an important impact on the sector as all permits will have to be based on the BAT Conclusions four years after the publication in the Official Journal.

According to EU law, the values that the plants currently have to follow are the Emission Limit Values (ELVs) from Annex VI of the IED.

BATAELs from previous versions of the BREF are not legally binding requirements and were obtained from average operational values. They had an informative purpose and were therefore of a completely different nature than the current D1 BATAELs, that will be the basis to set new ELVs in permits for all operating conditions and that will thus be legally binding for European waste-to-energy plants.

If one compares - as one should - ELVs from the IED to the BATAELs proposed in D1, then it is clear that the upper end of the proposed WI BREF D1 BATAELs is always lower or equal than the relative ELV in the IED, and the lower end of the proposed D1 BATAELs is always significantly lower than the relative ELV in the IED. Therefore, the proposed legally binding values in D1 are stricter than the current IED legally binding values and are thus quite ambitious.

The Waste Incineration sector has been the most stringently regulated industrial sector for many years. One of the consequences of this fact on the BREF review is that the data collection included quite low emission values most of the time. When emissions are at such low levels, then the uncertainty of the measurement becomes a very important topic (no measurement is exact, and the lower the measured value the less reliable the result of the measurement is); this needs to be tackled to avoid that monitoring requirements become inconsistent with future ELVs.

We expected to see a mention of this issue and how this is taken into account in the BAT Conclusions. Without it, permitting authorities will lack an important piece of information to be able to use BATAELs as ELVs.

Moreover, as already mentioned, compliance with emission limit values for continuously monitored substances refers to Effective Operating Time (IED Annex VI, special regime for incineration).

The ambiguity of the reference conditions of BATAELs could be tackled in general by improving the transparency of the work the EIPPCB does to derive BATAELs. The current BATAEL derivation methodology is often not traceable and this should be changed. The determination of BATAELs should follow a step-by-step and transparent methodology based on detailed statistical analysis of existing emission data and contextual information. Datasets need to be analysed very thoroughly and by using the right criteria, parameters and units. This is a very challenging task and needs the support of the whole TWG.

We should reinforce the guidance principle of the Seville process, which is that it should be a data- and fact-driven process; decisions should not, or at least less frequently, be taken through majority voting.