EARTH Thailand

Making garbage count

The Nation 08 June 2018 | PRATCH RUJIVANAROM

New waste tech firms offer better ways to convert them into fuel but critics say prevention and segregation must come first.

NEW ADVANCED waste-to-energy techniques are being touted to the Thai business sector and related government agencies as being more efficient and less environmentally damaging choices to manage the country’s waste.

Manufacturers from Japan and Finland see an opportunity to market their technology as Thailand tries to cope with its growing heaps of garbage and citizen opposition to new landfill sites and waste power plant projects.

BMH Technology of Finland promotes its waste-to-energy system as a high-quality substitute for fossil fuels, while Japan’s Hokuto Kogyo Company uses a hydrothermal technique to decompose waste. The two companies Wednesday presented at a seminar on the latest waste-management technologies, arranged by Waste-to-Energy Trade Association.

Traditional incineration plants face strong opposition in some countries due to toxic discharges that generate serious impacts on the environment and public health, and for competing for access to recyclables. The company representative promoted their products as “improved” and a better option than traditional waste disposal methods. including incineration and landfilling.

Kristian Batisto, business development engineer of BMH Technology, said his company’s high-tech waste-to-fuel process, can transform a wide variety of materials – including mixed municipal solid waste (MSW), commercial waste and industrial waste – into high-quality solid recovered fuel (SRF). That fuel, when burned, can generate high heat and energy, he said.

The company frames SRF as a “premium-grade waste fuel”, of a much higher quality for industrial use or for generating electricity than ordinary waste fuel or refuse derived fuel (RDF). The breakthrough lies in the additional processing that the input waste of SRF must go through to improve the quality and value of the output product.

The incoming waste must pass through many stages of processing by a “Tyrannosaurus” machine that gradually pulls out non-combustible materials such as glass and metal and then shreds the remaining combustible materials to create the solid recovered fuel output. That output can then be used as a fuel to power many kinds of industrial uses as well as electricity generation. 

“Compared to fossil fuels such as coal and oil, or even normal RDF, the SRF output from Tyrannosaurus not only has high calorific value and constant fuel quality, but it also emits very low pollution and greenhouse gases,” Batisto said.

“As our waste-processing system can efficiently separate out polluted substances within the input waste, only combustible waste is processed into SRF. It will emit a very small amount of pollution and greenhouse gases and meet the safe standards for dioxins and carbon dioxide.”

Batisto said many countries in the European Union as well as China, South Korea and India have already adopted this waste-to-fuel technology. The installation cost for a Tyrannosaurus waste processing system was around 3 million euros (Bt113 million).

A different approach is taken by Japan’s Hokuto Kogyo company. Representative Yasuno Tamio previewed its hydrothermal treatment technology, which the company claims can transform the structure of waste by processing it in water at a very high temperature and under high pressure to turn it into useful materials – waste fuel and bioplastic.

Tamio said the technology could efficiently transform and detoxify waste, making it suitable for treating hazardous wastes such as infectious waste from hospitals. The hydrothermal technology process also generates no air pollution because no burning is involved.

But even the new technological options for dealing with waste will fail to prevent harmful pollution from waste disposal, warned Penchom Saetang, a leading environmental expert and director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand.

New and cleaner waste-management technologies can only take us part of the distance to reducing the impact of waste problems, she said. Most important is reforming our waste-management system to ensure proper waste policies and good practices throughout the entire chain.

“Even if SRF is claimed to be cleaner and have higher efficiency than traditional waste-to-energy technology, burning waste remains harmful to the environment as the pollutants in the waste are emitted in the air,” Penchom said. 

She said that not all wastes are suitable for making waste fuel, even though some can produce high heat and energy. For example, PVC plastic – plastic that is composed of chloride – will generate highly toxic pollution when burned.

Moreover, she noted that Thailand has a poor waste-management system in which proper segregation of the components of the waste stream is virtually non-existent. That makes it very hard to keep highly polluting wastes out of the raw materials for SRF, and puts the environment and the public’s health at risk from harmful pollution.

Meanwhile, Professor Suthum Patumsawad at the Faculty of Engineering, King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok, said that skilled workers would need to run a system using hydrothermal treatment technique for waste management. That’s because different kinds of waste need different adjustments in temperature and pressure to ensure proper waste decomposition, he explained.

Treating waste using this technology could also generate polluted wastewater if the input wastes contained polluting substances, he said.