Turning waste into energy is big business, with many reports stating that the global industry is expected to grow to at least US$29.2bn by 2022. Bee’ah has always been able to provide sustainable solutions for waste management in the UAE. In this special report, His Excellency Khaled Al Huraimel, Group CEO, Bee’ah, provides insights into this growing market and the potential it has in the UAE.
The UAE has always believed in creating a sustainable and diversified economy. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding father, expressed the need to find new sources of revenue that were not oil-reliant, and to fuel our economy through a mix of clean energy sources. As part of the National Agenda set forth for Vision 2021, the UAE needs to derive 24% of its energy from clean sources in order to meet its energy targets. For a long time, the UAE has been in search of such sources that can leverage the resources available in the social and ecological context of this region. Waste-to-energy is increasingly being recognised as this source.
The average person in the UAE generates around 2.7 Kg of waste every day. With the rapid urbanisation in the Middle East, waste production in the region is only expected to increase. “Waste-to-energy projects will enable us to tackle this insurmountable problem of waste, in addition to meeting our energy needs. According to clean technology consultants, Pike Research, the waste-to-energy sector is set to grow at an unprecedented rate, with the global market estimated to reach $29.2 billion by 2022. In recognition of this untapped potential, the market for wasteto- energy initiatives in the UAE is now on the rise,” says H.E Khaled Al Huraimel, Group CEO of Bee’ah.
Potential in the waste-to-energy sector
Waste-to-energy presents great potential as it integrates both waste management and renewable energy production into a feasible solution. Given the large amount of waste trapped in landfills and the pace of life in urban communities that continue to aggravate the problem of waste, this is an inexhaustible source of clean energy, that also ensures that our waste is diverted from landfills.
As a leading environmental management company, Bee’ah has always been interested in investing in new forms of renewable energy. To further this ambition, Bee’ah signed a MOU with Masdar at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) 2016 and formed a strategic partnership to explore the potential of waste-to-energy projects in the region. “Since Bee’ah’s primary concern is the management of waste, we look for ways in which we can utilise this waste and prevent its disposal from becoming a hassle for our economy. While we have developed reintegration solutions for most forms of recyclable waste, non-recyclable waste is still being sent to landfills. Inspired by the UAE Government's Vision 2021, which seeks to increase the contribution of clean energy and reduce the diversion of waste to landfills, Bee’ah embarked on a path that resolved both these issues,” says H.E Huraimel.
At ADSW’17, both companies formalised the agreement to establish a joint venture, the Emirates Waste to Energy Company (EWEC). The JDA for the Sharjah Multi-fuel Waste-to-Energy plant, which is the first venture that has resulted from this partnership, was also signed at ADSW’17. One of the first wasteto- energy facilities in the Middle East, this facility will enable Sharjah to become the first city in the region to achieve ‘zero waste-to-landfill’ status, and help to achieve the UAE’s 2021 goal of diverting 75% of solid waste away from landfills. The plant will incinerate up to 37.5 tonnes of solid waste per hour to create 30 megawatts (MW) of energy, which will be supplied to the Sharjah electricity grid and power up to thousands of homes.The project will also displace almost 450,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, every year, and save 45 million m3 of natural gas. Following the establishment of this facility, the EWEC also hopes to establish similar plants across the UAE and the Middle East.
Technologies in waste-to-energy
The Emirates Waste to Energy Company’s first project will be the Sharjah Multi-fuel Waste-to- Energy facility, which will follow an incineration process. Though incineration is a method adopted by most waste-to-energy projects worldwide, Bee’ah is employing the most advanced technology which will help them to minimise emissions and improve electric efficiency. The most remarkable benefit of the incineration process is its ability to eradicate up to 96% of waste.
The facility will primarily incinerate non-recyclable types of waste. These are types of waste which cannot be absorbed into the loop of recovery or processed into forms that will make it beneficial for the economy. This type of waste is usually discarded in landfills, and is thus ideal to be used in energy generation.
Bee’ah is also in the process of developing a gasification plant which, when complete, will be one of the largest in the world. The power produced by this facility, will be added to that produced by the Sharjah Multi-fuel Waste-to-Energy facility, to supply around 100 MW of green energy, to the Sharjah electricity grid. Designed in collaboration with Chinook Sciences, the plant will achieve higher thermodynamic and water efficiency, in addition to minimising air pollution. The by-products of the process will be electricity, fertilisers, transportation fuels & chemicals.
Since waste-to-energy projects are new to the Middle East, significant effort is required to finance and set up the required infrastructure. The most commonly used method is incineration but for this process, advanced technology has to be deployed to ensure minimisation of pollutants and carbon dioxide. Proper management and disposal of ash produced from the process is also pivotal. To prevent loss of value to the economy, facility managers must ensure that only unrecyclable waste is incinerated. Other types of methodologies are yet to be widely used. Regardless of what method is used, supplying the energy produced, to the power grid, has its own set of challenges. Stringent planning is required to ensure consistent performance on a daily basis, so as to prevent intermittent supply of energy. For this purpose, it might also be necessary to evaluate and expand the storage capacity of the grid.
Bee’ah’s zero-waste to landfill target
Thanks to rapid economic expansion, the UAE has one of the highest per capita waste generation rates in the world. In the past year alone, Bee’ah processed over 1.7 million tonnes of waste. The highest contributor to this amount was municipal solid waste, which was closely followed by construction and demolition waste. Thanks to Bee’ah’s specialised recycling facilities, they have been able to process most of this waste and divert it away from the landfill. The efforts of these facilities, complemented by that of the waste-to-energy plants, will make complete diversion of waste a reality in the UAE. “Our primary goal has always been that of ‘zero waste-to-landfill’. Through Bee’ah’s efforts & efficiency in conversion and recycling techniques, we are proud to say that the rate of diversion in Sharjah has increased from 20% in 2009, to more than 70% by 2016,” says H.E Huraimel.
“We work towards processing waste in a manner that ensures recycling, recovery and reintegration into the economy, to fuel a sustainable and environmentally conscious cycle. Encouraging a circular economy, we have also maximised the efficiency of resource recovery through state-of-the-art machinery and effective separation of waste streams. Bee’ah is one of the first environmental companies in the region to have individual recycling facilities for specific types of waste. We are currently processing materials like paper, plastic, tyres, vehicles, metal, and construction & demolition waste, with facilities for wood, industrial liquid and oil, plastic film, PET plastic and others under way. The Centre also minimises the release of waste into the air, water or soil, following a repurposing process that is economical, as well as utilitarian,” he adds.
Sustainable initiatives in waste recovery
Though it is possible to incinerate all kinds of waste, Bee’ah prefers to recover materials, wherever possible. Rubber products which are retrieved at their facilities are typically recycled into jogging tracks, rubber tiles & other useful materials while tyres are converted to crumb rubber, which is used to create stadium playing areas, miniature golf courses and play grounds. The waste from their Construction & Demolition Waste Recycling Facility, such as concrete, bricks, wood, insulation and asphalt is processed and reused as aggregate for roads, pavements and walkways. In recognition of their leadership in waste management, they have also secured contracts with prestigious and globally-recognised brands like Emaar, TECOM, Dubai World Trade Center, FedEx, DAMAC Properties and many more. “In addition to waste management, we have been working with these organisations all through the year, to provide integrated recycling solutions. These efforts help these organisations to ensure that their waste is not diverted to landfill but processed at our facilities, ensuring the adoption of a circular economy,” says H.E Huraimel.
At the start of this year, Bee’ah deployed one of its biggest contracts outside Sharjah. In partnership with Abu Dhabi’s Tadweer, they created a roadmap for an environmentally sustainable future for Abu Dhabi, through integrated waste management solutions. “We use our electric and CNG-powered, eco-fleet to provide these services, thus enabling Abu Dhabi to reduce its overall carbon footprint. We mobilised over 1,000 people and hundreds of vehicles in 6 months to service this contract, and by the end of July, had collected more than 115 tonnes of waste from the eastern region of the capital,” says H.E Huraimel.
Through this process, Bee’ah has ensured sustainable production and consumption patterns in the communities it serves. With the establishment of the Sharjah Multi-fuel Waste-to-Energy facility, they hope to achieve complete waste diversion in Sharjah by 2020.
Green economy - the mainstay of waste management programmes?
Green economy and waste-to-energy projects are definitely the mainstay of waste management in the future. Highlighting its commitment to pursuing this vision, the UAE Government has adopted several initiatives to pursue the vision of a green economy, including the Green Economy for Sustainable Development initiative, the UAE Green Agenda 2015-2030 and the UAE Vision 2021. All of these initiatives seek to ensure the environmental, economic and social sustainability of the nation.
In addition to combating resource depletion and increasing carbon levels, a green economy creates natural wealth and social being. While increasing jobs at all skill levels, it also allows for the diversification of the economy, investment from foreign entities, and formation of strategic partnerships between government and non-government entities; building sustainable alternatives to present forms of production and consumption.
Given the global political and socio-economic scenario, there is a growing demand for clean energy and to decarbonise the economy. Most countries are trying to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and the Middle East is actively seeks to transition from its state of oil dependency. The pace of reduction in oil dependency has been fastest in the UAE as compared to other Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Oil dependency has declined in the UAE from 90% in 1980, to below 60 % by 2005. While this is a commendable fact, there is now an urgent need for clean sources of energy. Alternate sources of energy like wind and geothermal lack high potential in the Middle East.
Given the topography of the region, solar energy is a viable source, but is subject to the vagaries of weather. Waste-to-energy is a source with great potential as it not only meets energy needs but also alleviates the burden of waste rotting in landfills. When waste accumulates in landfills, it also produces harmful gases like methane, which is 18 times more poisonous than CO2, and the second biggest contributor to climate change. By investing in waste-to-energy, the UAE can ensure energy diversification while utilising a source that has been confirmed by experts to be commercially viable.