Increasingly waste is being used to generate power, which is creating new risks for the developers and operators of energy from waste plants, and a growing market for insurers.
In the UK we recycle 43% of household waste and more than half of business waste, according to figures released earlier this month by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
Unfortunately, not all waste can be recycled, but there are now a number of innovative ways to turn waste into power, heat and biofuel, rather than send it to landfill.
Green “energy from waste” technologies include anaerobic digestion (micro-organisms and waste are used to produce a biogas), gasification and pyrolysis (processes that turn biomass into a biogas and other products). These technologies use a variety of waste products as fuel, from agricultural by-products like olive pips, straw and sugar cane, to animal, clinical, industrial or municipal solid waste and sewage. And there is potential to use even more types of commercial and industrial wastes, WRAP says.
The energy from waste sector is undergoing a boom time, according to Jatin Sharma, head of business development at GCube, a specialist renewable energy coverholder backed by Lloyd’s syndicates and Munich Re.
“In the age of austerity we have to find ways to maximise energy generation by using waste that would otherwise find its way to landfill. There is no silver bullet to the decarbonisation of the power sector – so we need to look at all sources of energy including wind and solar, as well as energy from waste options like biomass,” says Sharma.
The biomass industry – which uses organic waste as fuel – currently generates just over 60 gigawatts of power globally and is growing by around 12% per year, according to GCube. Growth in the UK is expected to accelerate with a significant pipeline of recently consented projects, it says.
Energy from waste: the risks