Energy from Waste – Frequently Asked Questions

Environmental responsibility is key to protecting the future of our planet.

Energy from Waste (EfW) is the process by which energy is created from residual waste that would otherwise be disposed of in landfills.

However, the processing of large quantities of residual waste does have implications for the environment. The transfer, storage, tipping, and the incineration of waste can generate emissions such as particulate matter, dioxins, ash residues, acid gases, and general odour, all of which need to be mitigated to minimise the impact on human health and the environment.

AAC Eurovent provides bespoke Odour Control and VOC Abatement solutions for the Energy from Waste sector. To help you learn more about what Energy from Waste is and how AAC Eurovent can help EfW projects to minimise air pollution, we have put together some frequently asked questions below.

Energy from Waste (EfW) is a term that refers to the process of transforming residual waste (waste that cannot be recycled) into usable energy, either in the form of heat or electricity. This is done via a process known as ‘waste incineration’.

As waste incineration involves burning waste, it produces emissions in the form of particulate matter, dioxins, ash residues, and acid gases. These emissions can be dangerous to health through continuous exposure and it’s vital to minimise air pollution.

You can learn more about what Energy from Waste is from our article here.

Energy from Waste plants incinerates residual waste in order to generate usable energy. These plants can be designed to provide power in the form of electricity and/or heat. The heat generated from incineration can be transported as steam or hot water to a district heating scheme where the energy is distributed to residential and commercial properties.

By providing electricity, only the lower quality heat from steam condenser cooling operations is left. The remaining heat will be approximately 40°C at most so it can’t be used to power domestic heated water systems that run at 60°C. However, the remaining energy can be used to heat large spaces such as warehouses.

In short, Energy from Waste is not a renewable source of energy. However, the energy that is generated from these facilities can be used to replace other non-renewable fuels such as gas, oil, and coal.

The Renewables Obligation was introduced in 2002 in England, Wales, and Scotland, shortly followed by Northern Ireland in 2005. This is the main support scheme for large renewable electricity projects in the UK and it places an obligation on electricity suppliers to source a larger proportion of electricity from renewable sources.

All households and businesses in the UK generate waste that needs to be managed. Whilst there has been an increase in recycling, the residual waste would still be disposed of in landfills. The Zero Waste Plan aims to reduce the disposal of non-reusable waste into landfills and maximising the value of residual waste by recovering the energy.

Energy from Waste is not technically recycling and is more considered to be a form of ‘incineration’. Energy from Waste is the process of incinerating residual waste to recover usable energy. Whilst incineration is compatible with recycling, they are not the same thing.

Recycling enables re-usable materials to be processed, whereas Energy from Waste incinerates residual waste to generate usable energy.

The process of incinerating waste causes emissions including dioxins, particulate matter, heavy metals, and acid gases. Incineration of plastic and metal waste releases highly toxic pollutants which can be dangerous to health and the environment. Incinerators across the UK have been criticised for breaching the pollution guidelines and exceeding the legal limits of 200mg/m3 NOx emissions per day. The EU has been debating new rules that would place an obligation on incinerators to reduce the NOx emissions by 25% by 2024 in order to improve air quality and reduce air pollution from waste incineration.

Particulate matter that is emitted into the air as a result of incineration is also a concern as it can cause significant breathing problems and heart and lung disease.

As with all waste management facilities, there are strict standards and legislation in place for reducing the risk of harm to health and the environment. EfW plants incinerate materials that emit particulate matter, dioxins, acid gases, and ash residues into the air. As a result, EfW plants are regulated under various legislation such as the European Waste Incineration Directive (WID) and the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive (IED).

The European Waste Incineration Directive came into force in 2000 and it aims to reduce or prevent the negative effects on the environment caused by waste incineration. There is a focus on reducing air pollution caused by emissions into the air, soil, and water in order to reduce the negative effects on health.

The EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive is strict legislation that controls the development and operations of energy from waste facilities. Before any facility is able to operate in the UK, it must obtain an environmental permit from the Environment Agency, who will then assess and monitor the facility based on the IED legislation.

AAC Swiftpack 3-Pass Carbon Filter System with a Pre-Filter.

All waste management projects do have some risks to health and the environment. However, because there are risks, these waste management operations need to be managed and controlled in order to reduce emissions. Measures such as environmental permits, stringent emission standards, and air quality legislation require businesses to comply before operating their EfW facilities.

Energy from Waste companies can also utilise carbon filter systems such as the AAC 3-Pass Swiftpack system which provides a reliable solution for preventing odours and VOC pollution in EfW facilities. These carbon filter systems significantly reduce air pollutants and can help organisations to meet strict standards and legislation.

In addition to the negative effects that air pollution can have on the environment, the incineration process also presents dangers to human health. Dioxins are a group of chemically-related compounds that pollute the environment and can be found in many places, with industrial processing being one of the main sources.

Studies have shown that continuous exposure to dioxins such as NO and NO2, can cause adverse health effects. To reduce and prevent these risks, it’s vital that these facilities have measures in place to tackle these issues, such as carbon filter systems.

Adverse health effects can include:

  • Developmental issues
  • Infertility
  • Immune system damage
  • Hormonal issues
  • Cancer

Particulate matter is a term that refers to the fine particles that are found in the atmosphere. They can come from a variety of sources; some are even natural sources. Particulate matter comes in different sizes but they can cause various health complications.

They can be categorised into two main types; PM 2.5 (particles finer than 2.5 microns) and PM 10 (particles finer than 10 microns). PM 2.5 particles can be so small that they can enter your bloodstream which is very dangerous to human health. Additionally, the smaller the particle, the more likely it is able to remain in the air for longer.

It is said that particulate matter can have negative health effects through continuous exposure, including respiratory and cardiovascular health complications.

The emissions of particulate matter from Energy from Waste facilities have been an on-going concern, especially in cases where facilities are exceeding the legal limit values for PM 2.5 and PM10. As these EfW plants incinerate significant amounts of residual waste, the particulate matter must be managed and controlled to reduce air pollution. The EU had introduced the CAFÉ directive to enforce limit values and thresholds for specific air pollutants, including PM 2.5 and PM 10.

All types of facilities that handle biodegradable waste would have bad odours if the right systems or solutions are not implemented. There are a few areas where odour control is required in Energy from Waste facilities, such as the waste transfer stations, the waste storage areas, the tipping hall, and the waste incinerator.

Waste transfer stations and storage areas require waste to be kept under negative pressure and have odour control systems in place to extract the odours and remove dust from the air.

UK regulations require buildings to be properly ventilated and when the incinerators are in downtime or maintenance, the tipping hall will need to be ventilated with carbon filter systems. Normally, the incinerator would draw in the air of the same quantity from the tipping hall to assist with the combustion process. When the incinerator is down, the carbon filter system ventilates the tipping hall to ensure that no odour or dust is present 24/7.

At AAC Eurovent, we provide 3-pass Swiftpack systems that offer a comprehensive 3-stage carbon filtration, including a pre-filter. Our Swiftpack system provides an effective back-up for maintaining odourless and dust-free air in EfW plants, helping you to comply with regulations. Learn more about our 3-pass Swiftpack systems here.

Need a Measurable Odour Control and VOC Abatement Solution for Your Energy from Waste Project?

AAC Eurovent delivers innovative solutions, designed to meet the specific needs of the Energy from Waste sector.

Call us on 0800 999 4884 or send us an email to find out more about our standard Carbon Filter solutions and our Free of Charge design and manufacture service for bespoke Energy from Waste projects.

Further Information

To find out more about our carbon filters for Energy from Waste projects, call our Customer Sales Team on 0800 999 4884 or send us an email.