Waste to energy – a clean solution to a growing problem

Waste to Energy, W2E

The sprawling city of Shenzhen in northern China has a population of over 20 million people and creates around 15,000 metric tons of waste every day. No surprise, perhaps, that it’s the site of what will be, when it’s operational, the world’s largest waste-to-energy plantto date.

Waste-to-energy technology turns urban waste into fuel. Incineration of waste products generates heat, which is used to drive a turbine and so generate electricity. While it’s true that the process of incineration causes CO2 emissions, the architects of the Shenzhen East Waste-to-Energy Plant claim this occurs at just half the level of an average landfill site.

The enormous plant is built in an innovative circular design and utilizes advanced waste incineration and power generation technology. When operational, in 2020, it will be able to process 5,000 metric tons of waste per day and – as a by-product – is expected to generate 50 million kWh of electricity per year. It is a clean solution to a growing problem.

The plant will have a secondary function as a place of education. Entry will be via a landscaped park that leads to a visitors’ center, giving an overview of the machinery. A guided tour via a circular walkway will explain each process, and ultimately lead up to the roof, from where a spectacular view of the city and the surrounding landscape can be enjoyed.

World Bank figures indicate that China generates more waste than any other country, but many countries worldwide are having to tackle similar challenges. UN predictions put the world’s population at 9.8 billion people by 2050, and so technology that efficiently removes urban waste while generating energy – such as our own BT Advanced Gasification solution– can be desirable to investors. Interest in such technologies is growing, and the World Energy Council estimates that the global market will be worth in the region of $40 billion by 2023.

What might the future of energy look like?

The Future of Energy

When it comes to today’s energy market, demand is growing, supply is primarily based on fossil fuels, and global energy-related CO2emissions hit an all-time high last year. There can’t be many people left on the planet who haven’t yet got the message that, when it comes to the generation of energy, we need radical change. However, even when people agree that something must be done, they can disagree about what that should be and how the future should look. So, what will the future bring? Here are some thoughts on possible future scenarios.

A clean-tech cold war

Each nation pursues clean technology that would result in discovery with the potential to alleviate climate change and remove the need for the use of fossil fuels – and one achieves a revolutionary breakthrough. However, that breakthrough sparks an escalation of political tension, and the nations of the world split into opposing factions. The result is that some countries are excluded from the benefits enjoyed by others, and continue to pursue old tech, reducing the global benefits that could potentially be gained from new tech.

Circle the wagons

Each nation plows its own furrow when it comes to energy production. Knowledge and tech advancements aren’t shared, and neither are values, ideals, and targets, as individual nations fail to agree on a united global policy. This spells the end of, for example, the Paris Agreement on climate change. Global warming is not slowed, and international conflict flares over limited resources.

Business as usual

Nations bury their heads in the sand to ensure the energy status quo – a global dependence on fossil fuel sources – prevails. As a result, fossil fuels retain their dominance, and climate change problems continue to escalate.

Global green accord

Nations appreciate the urgency of the situation and come together to find a solution. In this scenario, within a decade, green tech companies could dominate the landscape. Everyone wins – including “old tech” companies, who are compensated for loss and/or funded to evolve.

Now what?

According to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, “How can humanity prevent the global temperature rise more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial level,” commissioned following the adoption of the Paris Agreement, emissions resulting from human activity must decline by 45% (compared with 2010 levels) by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050, to limit global warming. To be clear, this isn’t a get-out strategy – even if we achieve this target, we can still expect to see widespread drought, famine, and poverty in the world as a result of the climate crisis.

At Clean Energy Enterprises, we recognize the need to keep striving toward the reduction of emissions resulting from human activity, to keep innovating when it comes to relevant new tech – and to keep talking about the effect our industrialized society can have upon our planet. No matter our differences, we are all in this together. We welcome and endorse any enterprise that leads us closer to a clean energy solution that is also sustainable and renewable. All our lives may depend on it.

Hydrogen fuel tech could be on the verge of a breakout

hydrogen fuel tech

In terms of the worldwide adoption of zero-emission transport, lithium-ion battery technology is still leading the race. However, it may be a mistake to assume that will always be the case, and that there is an inevitable shift from traditional gasoline and diesel fuels to electric vehicles. The hydrogen fuel cell vehicle could yet be a contender for the frontrunner in zero-emission vehicles.

According to forecasts by the Hydrogen Council – a worldwide initiative of over 50 top energy, transport and industry businesses with a long-term mission to develop the global hydrogen economy – hydrogen will provide 18% of global energy requirements by 2050, while hydrogen fuel is predicted to power over 400 million passenger vehicles worldwide, as well as more than 20 million trucks and 5 million buses. If the Hydrogen Council’s predictions are correct, the hydrogen fuel market would create 30 million jobs around the globe, and reach a worth of around $2.5 trillion.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there were only 6,558 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the United States – against over 260 million passenger vehicles registered in the nation. There are a number of reasons for that lack of uptake. For one, hydrogen fuel vehicles aren’t widely available in many areas of the U.S. But a bigger problem is the lack of infrastructure – as of March this year, there were only 39 hydrogen refueling stations nationwide … Thirty-five of which are in the state of California.

Moreover, there is still the potential for exponential growth in the adoption of hydrogen-fueled cars. If that seems a reach, we need to look at hydrogen vehicles and fuel tech in comparison to the increase in the adoption of electric cars. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, there were just 4,736 electric vehicles sold between 2008 and 2010, while in 2018 alone, there were more than 360,000 electric vehicle sales in the United States. Similar growth in the sale of hydrogen fuel vehicles is absolutely possible – but that is reliant upon both government and industry buy-in, and investment in both vehicle technology and, perhaps more importantly, infrastructure to support hydrogen fuel.

Hydrogen technology is indeed on the verge of a breakout, and so is renewable hydrogen production technology, such as Clean Energy Enterprises’ Advanced Gasification technology, delivering practical waste-to-energy solutions to our clients nationwide.

A clean hydrogen future is coming

clean hydrogen

There is an ever-stronger global consensus that clean hydrogen solutions will form a vital part of mankind’s transition to a future of sustainable energy. Clean hydrogen can help cut carbon emissions from both transportation and industrial sources. However, the widespread adoption of cleaner hydrogen production isn’t without challenges. In this article we’ll look at three types of hydrogen production – sometimes referred to respectively as “gray,” “blue” and “green” – and some of the factors that affect their adoption.

Today, most hydrogen generated is gray hydrogen, which is produced industrially from natural gas – this is currently the cheapest hydrogen production method. The downside of this process is that it produces significant carbon emissions. That is problematic in terms of environmental effects, but it also has a considerable impact in terms of cost. The current production price of gray hydrogen is around $1.70 per kilogram, primarily driven by the price of natural gas. However, natural gas prices vary around the world, and market-driven price raises in the near future may present challenges. Another important consideration is the costs imposed by carbon emissions trading systems. In the European Union, the price of CO2emissions is in the region $30 per ton, but this could increase to as much as $45 per ton within the decade, potentially increasing the price of gray hydrogen by over 30%.

A cleaner type of production is blue hydrogen, in which carbon emissions are captured and stored or reused. As with gray hydrogen, the price of blue hydrogen is highly dependent upon natural gas prices. However, the cost of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) is another major factor, with costs in the range of $60 to $80 per ton of CO2. While that puts European blue hydrogen production at a higher cost than gray hydrogen, that could change in the coming years as the cost of carbon emissions increases while CCUS costs are likely to reduce due to innovation and scaling.

The cleanest form of production is green hydrogen, which is produced using renewable energy sources and without carbon emissions. Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water, at an estimated current cost of between $4 and $6 per kilogram. Currently, worldwide electrolysis capacity is both costly and limited, resulting in green hydrogen’s high price compared to other production methods. However, as the technology becomes more widespread, industry analysts expect electrolysis costs to reduce by around 70% over the next decade. The cost of green electricity required for the electrolysis process is also an important factor in the price of green hydrogen, and future efficiencies in solar and wind energy production may also help to bring costs down. One should also note that solar energy is actually not as green as we may think, due to the significant CO2release caused by the production of the photovoltaic panels. 

At Clean Energy Enterprises, we believe that the clean hydrogen revolution has already begun, and our own BT Advanced Gasification technologies – which produce green hydrogen directly from biomass – are playing their role in it. While renewable energy costs have come down in recent years, there is still a high cost on the input side of electrolysis. Hydrogen from biomass or waste is of course green if the feedstock is biomass only; it would be considered blue hydrogen if it includes fossil-origin plastic waste. And in both cases, it brings a much lower cost into the production equation. In addition, it is always possible to capture and store the short cycle CO2produced during our transformation process. In that case, we would even be carbon-negative, actually removing CO2from the atmosphere, not merely preventing additional discharge.

Our hydrogen production solution also addresses another major environmental issue: the treatment and remediation of accumulating waste, including plastics that typically do not degrade over time.

Douglas County PUD sets sights on hydrogen fuel production

Clean energy from hydrogen Fuel

The Douglas County Public Utility District (PUD) in Washington State has clean energy set firmly in its sights with plans to expand its operations into renewable hydrogen fuel production. The nonprofit corporation operates Wells Dam on the Columbia River, which produces more power than is used by local customers. Currently, Douglas County PUD sells the excess energy to other utility districts, but the supplier now thinks that surplus electricity could also be used to produce hydrogen fuel. If the plan goes ahead, the PUD could be one of several electricity suppliers in the Pacific Northwest to start producing this form of clean energy.

The hydrogen fuel would be produced by using the excess electricity to split water molecules by electrolysis, forming hydrogen and oxygen. Douglas PUD are initially looking at investing around $3 million for the purchase of a two- to three-megawatt electrolyzer as part of a test project to determine the economic feasibility of the plan. Speaking recently to a Washington Senate committee, Douglas County PUD general manager Gary Ivory explained that hydrogen fuel can be used not only to power vehicles, but is also used in a variety of industrial processes including fertilizer production, oil refining and the manufacture of electronics.

While there are currently no commercial hydrogen fuel stations in Washington or Oregon, and the production of hydrogen-powered vehicles is still only in limited numbers, the proposal from Douglas County PUD is part of a wider push for renewable and clean energy. Douglas County PUD, along with Tacoma Power, Puget Sound Energy, Eugene Water & Electric Board and NW Natural, recently formed the Renewable Hydrogen Alliance trade association. In a recent interview, the association’s executive director, Ken Dragoon, said that the strongest prospects for the successful development of a renewable hydrogen fuelindustry lie in the Pacific Northwest, due to the greater availability of surplus hydropower at low prices compared to other parts of the country.

At Clean Energy Enterprises, we also recognize a unique opportunity for hydrogen fuel production in the great Northwest due to the enormous amount of bio wastefrom the forestry and agricultural industries. In addition to having a surplus of electricity, the Evergreen State has a surplus of biomass waste, which poses a significant disposal problem. 

With the use of a BLUE Tower Clean Energy system, virtually any organic waste stream, including the plastics that are now recognized as a worldwide threat, can be converted into clean hydrogen while mitigating the problem of waste disposal, with little to no emissions. Contact usfor more information on organic waste removal and clean energy production.