The waste-to-energy revolution

Philip Hall, MD of Reclaim Resources Ltd and a prolific inventor and entrepreneur, designed and developed the Vantage Waste Processor (VWP), and has patented this process for turning household waste into valuable energy. Waste Management World talks to Philip about the inspiration for his work and the benefits of the VWP system. WMW: Odour removal seems an ideal background for the waste industry. How did it lead to where you are today? PH: Research into noxious odours produced from waste recycling plants led to a train of thought about how to address the pressing global issue of landfill, and how to combat the ever increasing amounts of rubbish we generate. The obvious answer is preventing waste generation but this is unrealistic, it’s like decreeing ‘don’t use electricity; live in the dark; no more consumer spending; stop production of new goods.’ I believe that mankind, in spite of his failings, is capable of adapting to changing manmade social issues and has the ability to advance and invent new technologies to limit, prevent and reverse the damage we have inadvertently caused in the name of industrialization and globalization. There are many individuals, whether scientists, business innovators or even regular people like myself, that are increasingly focusing on how to resolve the current problems of diminishing resources and the accumulation of waste pollution. It sometimes takes relatively simple ideas based on existing technologies, perhaps traditionally applied to function in ‘non-green’ sectors that can be updated or tweaked to address our pressing environmental needs. In essence, we as humans, may have created the problems, however as history proves, we have consistently solved our problems and averted disasters. I’m incredibly confident that solutions like the Vantage Waste Processor (VWP) can resolve our waste issues, rapidly and effectively. WMW: How can this be applied to the waste industry? PH: The solution to the ever-growing waste problem is not easy; the global population was 6.7 billion in 2008, is set to pass 7 billion within four years, and predicted to rise to 9.3 billion by 2050. This highlights how waste production will not slow or decrease. In addition, over half of the world’s population now live in urban areas where rampant consumerism is endemic, resulting not only in the sharp increase in the purchase of non-essential items, but it has also encouraged the over-packaging of goods that has created a waste nightmare. We cannot avoid rubbish and therefore need an environmentally approved way of managing it. Landfill has been the most common but ineffective method of disposing of household waste for far too long. However, proactive moves are being made by legislators to reverse this trend and to utilize better technologies to handle waste disposal issues. For instance, the EU’s Landfill Directive imposes a landfill tax upon local councils to disincentivize landfill use. The penalties in the UK currently stand at £32 (US$45.6) per tonne but will continue to increase on an annual basis. The cost of the penalties are incorporated into local council taxes, affecting all residents and commercial operators. It is imperative that local authorities accelerate their action on tackling this problem. Transporting the VWP to site for installation Click here to enlarge image UK councils have been accused of ‘cheating’ the penalties by using incineration to dispose of the rubbish, or buying other authorities’ surplus allowances. Ultimately, the cost, both environmentally and financially, falls back onto the everyday tax payer. It is the responsibility of local authorities to deal with this problem appropriately, finding a green and economic solution to this societal burden. Our proven technology, the Vanage Waste Processor, has undergone rigorous testing and has been successfully publicly demonstrated. The biomass output has been analysed by Coventry University (UK), and a feasibility report has been researched and written about the high quality of the biomass generated. WMW: Have you any ideas about energy production? PH: While we need a solution for waste reduction, we also need alternative sources of energy before we experience a global energy crisis. I realized that these two issues could solve each other if linked together with municipal solid waste (MSW) possessing the properties to provide a very cheap (free) source of fuel. The biomass, cleanly produced by the VWP can be converted into electricity or bio-ethanol and we are currently investigating other forms of energy it could produce, such as jet fuel. Ethanol production has become highly contentious as a result of the Clean Energy Act 2007, passed in the US, in which the government set mandated levels of corn-based ethanol production. The act has had a huge impact on the price of corn, through increased demand over the last two and a half years the market has seen a 243% increase. Numerous analysts predict the trend will continue as ethanol becomes the largest source of corn demand within the next three or four years and the industry expands to meet the government requirements. MSW meanwhile is forecast to increase by 37.3% between 2007 and 2011. The total amount of MSW generated worldwide in 2006 was estimated at 2.02 billion tonnes. Using MSW for ethanol production rather than putting pressure on valuable food supplies, is a logical and practical solution for which the VWP caters. WMW: What is the Vantage Waste Processor and how does it solve the problems you have highlighted? PH: The VWP provides an environmentally friendly and economically efficient solution to both waste reduction and energy production. In Europe, a household sack of MSW is 63% organic and therefore suitable for conversion to biomass. The VWP uses a high-pressure, hydro-thermal process, reducing raw, unsorted household rubbish by up to 60% whilst processing and sanitizing waste material through an innovative ‘continuous feed’ rotating stainless steel chamber. This provides two key benefits; reducing the waste by up to 60% means that even if the waste still ends up in landfill once processed, there will be 60% less and therefore 60% less tax. Secondly, sanitization is of high importance, especially in developing countries where waste sorting is often carried out by hand. The heat, steam-generation, spinning chamber, turbulence and time, all create the perfect conditions for opening the fibres of the waste material which renders the biomass ideal for conversion to energy in a non-polluting way. After passing through the VWP, the much-reduced remaining waste material is sorted, plastics and metals are separated for recycling, and the residue fine flaky biomass can then be converted into compost or more importantly into bio-ethanol or electricity. Each chamber of the VWP can treat 10 tonnes of waste per hour or 80,000 tonnes per processor per annum, which is equal to the household rubbish produced by a mid-sized town in England. The bio-ethanol is produced from a process of distillation, fermentation and extraction, resulting in 30 million litres of ethanol (which equates to approximately 200 million miles/320 million kilometres in an average car) per 160,000 tonnes of waste. The same quantity of waste can produce 80 million kW of electricity. The VWP produces enough energy for all of its on-site equipment running requirements, and the bio-ethanol output can also be used to power municipal waste-collection trucks. WMW: How is the VWP cost efficient? PH: The VWP is cost efficient for several reasons. First of all, it produces enough energy to self-run. Additionally, it will produce the fuel necessary to power the trucks that collect the waste. The fact that MSW can be fed into the VWP unsorted, means we can return to a single collection of all household waste, resulting in a reduction of costs and therefore taxes. There is currently little revenue to be gained from recycling (hence it being flown overseas by several London councils), and in any case recycling revenues are off-set by landfill taxes. The VWP, as well as reducing or eliminating landfill taxes, will generate income through the ability to sell on the electricity or bio-ethanol produced. It will also allow the sites to collect carbon credits for their ‘green’ credentials. It will continue to provide jobs for those involved with the plant and the sorting process. WMW: What are your key markets? Where is most of the interest in your solution coming from? PH: We have received a lot of interest in the VWP from the Middle East, where a solution for waste production has not been found and applied in line with the rapid development and urbanization the region has experienced. Dubai stands as one of the world’s largest producers of waste. Asia also has huge problems with waste, accentuated by the quantities of British waste that are flown over to both India and China. Asia is forward-looking in its ambitions to tackle the problems it is experiencing alongside its development and globalization; India has ambitions to make Gujarat a ‘landfill-free’ state by 2021. Urban India produces an ever-growing 320 million tonnes of waste per annum, with more that 95% of it ending up in landfill. Rubbish tips have long been considered goldmines by Indian rag-pickers, however currently they are left vulnerable to high-risk toxins in the waste. The VWP would allow those involved in the hand-sorting to benefit from the VWP’s sanitising process, another factor making it ideal for the continent. I have had interest from both India and the Philippines. Eastern Europe is another key market. It is critical to their countries’ future that they find alternative energy solutions, allowing them to become independent from their neighbours and removing reliance on energy supplies. Being a British company, the UK clearly presents itself as an important market. While we have received much interest, the cost of regulations and the implications of planning permission and other governmental hurdles mean a very long lead time to installation and utilization of the VWP. WMW: So the key is? PH: The key is being able to process the waste into something worthwhile, everything else comes from that. Philip Hall is Managing Director of Reclaim Resources Ltde-mail: Philip’s background Click here to enlarge image Philip began his career in the swimming pool construction industry which diversified into several pool-related businesses bringing to market simple solutions for known industry problems. One notable invention was an air purification product, incorporating UV light and an anti-microbial liquid, that could kill bacteria on filters and additionally obviating noxious smells. This now provides solutions to problems faced by the fast food industry; the product is capable of reducing grease build up in ductwork (a fire hazard) together with the removal of odour. The company also serves the waste recycling industry and are currently installing one of world’s largest odour removal systems at the newly constructed Derwenthaugh Ecoparc Waste Recycling plant in Newcastle, England. Conversion into electricity The bio-ethanol is currently converted into electricity using a conventional commercial engine. The bio-ethanol can be converted into approximately 7.5 MW of electricity. This is a ground-breaking method of electricity production that does not require gasification or anaerobic digestion. This significantly improves electricity production. Odour removal equipment The patented technology allows contaminated air to enter a chamber made of titanium with the inclusion of ultra violet technology. Once in the chamber, the contaminated air is converted into ozone and then into oxygen. The clean air is then reintroduced into the plant, odour free and entirely safe. The equipment is scalable and can be designed to cover the area of operation or can be widened to cover the entire plant. The future Reclaim Resources is currently fielding over 200 enquiries from all over the world. Memorandums of understanding and contracts have been signed in the Philippines, Turkey, Eastern Europe and the USA, and installation of the plants are expected to be completed in 2009. Furthermore a number of negotiations are progressing with councils in the UK. Reclaim Resources is also developing other technologies which have been spun out from the original innovations; it anticipates it will commercialize these in the very near future under its filed patent, and inline with its stated intention of producing a 100% recyclable solution. Bio-ethanol processing The VWP will produce biomass with uniform open fibres, suitable for conversion into fuel. The resultant biomass will undergo a sophisticated and patented process of distillation, fermentation and extraction. Typically each chamber will produce 15 million litres of ethanol per annum, which is suitable for conversion into electricity. This is expandable to additional VWP chambers.