Waste-to-Energy Market Expands as Landfill Space Shrinks

March 23, 2012

Roof mounted natural ventilation at Allington Waste to Energy Power Plant in Maidstone provided by Colt.

Estimate shows WTE revenue may tip $29.2 billion by 2022

Thankfully a growing number of renewable energy solutions are emerging as viable business options worldwide. Add organic trash as an energy feedstock to this list of candidates – a material that happens to be increasing as readily as Kudzu – or at a minimum, on par with worldwide population growth.

In 2011, the world generated some 2 billion tons of municipal solid waste, reports Pike Research, which adds that over the next decade the tonnage will grow considerably. Many waste managers are taking more proactive steps to what once was seen only as a problem – the shrinking of available landfill space to an increase in supply. One promising solution has been to produce energy (gas or electric) from the methane gas that is naturally generated from the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter.

The Pike study states there is an increasing global demand for solutions that convert waste into heat and electricity – commonly called waste-to-energy (WTE) in the waste management industry. As appealing as WTE may appear to municipalities and communities, upfront capital costs of installing an energy capture and distribution infrastructure are significant.

Presently more than 800 thermal WTE plants operate in nearly 40 countries but these facilities treated only 11 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW) generated worldwide in 2011 compared to the 70 percent that was simply dumped in landfills. But expect growth to take place. According to Pike, WTE systems will treat at least 261 million tons of waste annually by 2022, with a total estimated output of 283 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity and heat generation, up from 221 TWh in 2010. Under a more optimistic scenario, WTE will potentially treat 396 million tons of MSW a year, producing 429 TWh of power.

The global market for thermal and biological WTE technologies will reach at least $6.2 billion in 2012 and grow to $29.2 billion by 2022, the cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts. Under the optimistic forecast scenario, market value could reach $80.6 billion by 2022.

“With many countries facing dramatic population growth, rapid urbanization, rising levels of affluence, and resource scarcity, waste-to-energy is reestablishing itself as an attractive technology option to promote low-carbon growth in the crowded renewable energy landscape,” says senior analyst Mackinnon Lawrence. “China is already in the midst of scaling up capacity, and growth there is expected to shift the center of the WTE universe away from Europe to Asia-Pacific.”

WTE facilities are integrated into broader waste management regimes aimed at preventing the use of landfills. Although combustion technologies continue to lead the market, advanced thermal treatment technology deployments such as pyrolysis are expected to pick up as diminishing landfill capacity improves WTE economics. Utilization of biological technologies is also expected to increase worldwide.

Photo: Colt Group



Glenn Meyers

Writer, documentary producer, and director. Meyers is a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.