Sharjah and Abu Dhabi turn to waste burning projects to generate greener energy

A Dh3 billion plant that will burn rubbish to generate power has been proposed for Abu Dhabi.

Visitors being briefed on the 'Waste to Energy Plant' model at the Taqa stall at the World Future Energy Summit. Ravindranath K / The National
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A Dh3 billion plant that will burn rubbish to generate power has been proposed for Abu Dhabi.

Plans for a similar facility in Sharjah have also been unveiled.

The plants aim to provide energy efficiently and greenly as well as reduce the pressure on landfill sites.

The Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, Taqa, is hoping to build one of the largest waste-to-energy facilities in the world at an estimated cost of US$850 million (Dh3.1bn).

In Sharjah, Bee’ah – a government company that provides environmental services – is about to officially announce the contract to build a plant near the emirate’s main landfill.

A model of Abu Dhabi’s plant has been on display at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Centre as part of Sustainability Week. It will be capable of feeding a hundred megawatts of power to the grid.

The facility will be built in Industrial City Abu Dhabi near the sea port in Mussaffah and will burn a million tonnes of waste a year.

Taqa carried out a three-month study of Abu Dhabi’s waste management.

“We found out there was at least enough volume to do two 100MW plants,” said Edward Atkinson, head of waste-to-energy at Taqa.

He said the volume of waste was expected to rise as the population grows over the next five to eight years.

Burning waste to produce power “is something that, the more we get into it, the more we realise how suitable it is for this part of the world, given the amounts of waste there is”.

The project needs final approval from the Abu Dhabi Government and work is expected to start a year after this is received, Mr Atkinson said.

The plant has been designed to meet strict European Union emissions standards and will use treated sewage effluent – a more environmentally friendly option – for cooling instead of potable water.

The Sharjah plant is expected to be up and running by next year.

“We are in the final negotiations and we will be announcing it officially soon,” said Khaled Al Huraimel, group chief executive officer at Bee’ah.

The selection process started in December 2012, when 88 companies expressed interest.

Work will start this year and will take a little more than 12 months, Mr Al Huraimel said.

The project is part of the company’s zero-waste strategy, announced in 2011. Through its recycling programme and material recovery work, which picks out recyclables from municipal solid waste, Bee’ah has already diverted about 60 per cent of Sharjah’s waste from landfills.

“Whatever waste we are not able to process or treat will go into this facility and will be converted into electricity,” said Mr Al Huraimel, although he could not suggest the plant’s power output.

“We are still in the final negotiations, we do not know the actual final output and we are still looking at increasing that output more.”

Taqa and Bee’ah may have similar concepts but the technologies adopted by the companies are not.

Taqa is opting for “tried and tested incineration” in Abu Dhabi.

“We are very keen that we are not experimental in our technology selection or looking at any prototypical alternative technology,” Mr Atkinson said.

“I don’t think at the moment that at this scale – utility-scale waste-to-energy – anything other than incineration is efficient enough or bankable enough to work.

“The danger of a new region adopting a new system for waste disposal and waste management is that you litter the place with experimental technology. That would be a mistake for Abu Dhabi to go experimental early.”

Bee’ah is looking at a mixture of gasification and pyrolisis, which involves treating waste at higher temperatures in the absence of oxygen. This has already been tried in the US and Britain, according to Mr Al Huraimel.

“There are many technologies, many companies have used incineration ... for years,” he said. “We decided that Sharjah wants to be a leader in the environmental industry, so we went and looked for what is the latest technology and that is what we are doing.

“This technology is the greenest when it comes to waste-to-energy and we felt that this solution was right for Sharjah.”