Reality gap in the energy from waste market

Waste management company Biffa has undertaken its own examination of the UK energy from waste market, saying there has been a ‘reality gap’ between analysis undertaken to date and the way the market truly operates. Their report, they say, has looked at realistic future waste arising scenarios, the impact of these on “conversion” of currently consented UK projects into operational energy from waste plant, supply and demand interplay between waste arisings and operational plant and the resulting balance.

The introduction of the report, ‘The reality gap – UK residual waste treatment capacity, making sense of the arguments’, notes that the majority of reports published on the issue over the last five years have predicted capacity gaps, and therefore a continued need for infrastructure investment. However, it says that to date, straight mathematical gap analysis has been applied, setting predicted future waste arisings against predicted future capacity, which masks market dynamics linked to geographical spread of infrastructure. Instead this analysis has been carried out in terms of likely realistic future waste arising scenarios, the impact of that on conversion of currently consented UK projects into operational energy from waste plants, the supply and demand interplay between these and the resulting balance.

Key findings include:

  • The current UK residual waste treatment capacity gap is around 15Mtpa, potentially reducing to between 4.4Mtpa and 5.9Mtpa by 2025.
  • Future waste infrastructure delivery in the UK is entirely dependent on private sector funding, and will be determined by supply and demand.
  • Conversion of consented capacity into operational capacity is all that matters. For individual projects, specific market assessments will always be necessary.
  • Residual waste treatment capacity development goes hand in hand with recycling. MRF closures in the UK are not caused by EfW plants being built.
  • UK-wide analyses mask geographical variations within the UK, which is what the markets relate to. Areas with insufficient capacity coverage will see that situation continuing beyond 2025, where waste volumes are too small to support major investment. The capacity gap will reduce, but not disappear completely, once it reaches market equilibrium. However, the remaining balance can be managed by combinations of current solutions and potential smaller scale plants, subject to appropriate technology being developed.
  • Current waste management options which help to address the UK residual waste treatment capacity shortfall will continue to be essential, including RDF export. Existing landfill capacity will remain important in the short term and the long term, as a general waste management back-up whilst additional treatment capacity is developed and for wastes which can only be landfilled.

So overall, this report concludes it seems unlikely energy from waste over capacity will become reality in the UK, as private sector funders will not fund large scale EfW plants without the market to support them. The authors state that the impact of overcapacity elsewhere in Europe makes UK project funders wary. They add that securing funding for UK EfW projects now, even with a substantial market, is challenging, unless substantial volumes of feedstock can be secured. They add that the interdependence of waste availability and infrastructure has gone unacknowledged in many reports, and predict the market will achieve a natural working balance – with a reduced capacity gap.

At Clarity we offer an expanding range of waste to fuel solutions and work across the UK and export markets for RDF and SRF. To find out more  call our team on 0845 129 7177.

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