A load of rubbish? Australia is transforming its waste into energy

4 min

Australia generates nearly 70 million tonnes of waste per year, around half of which is recycled. With such a volume of garbage to contend with, some companies have been looking at ways to unlock its fuel potential.

There’s probably a multitude of different coloured bins outside your property or business right now, filled with assorted rubbish from your home or work life, separated out into the appropriate receptacle for collection. Traditionally this would be all destined for landfill and recycling stations, but now some companies are taking cues from innovations in Europe and investing in ways to extract energy from Australian waste.

Sweden currently powers everything from buses to apartment heating systems by burning rubbish in low-carbon incinerators and using food waste to make climate-friendly biogas fuel. Energy recovery makes up almost half of the total amount of treated household waste in the country. According to Avfall Sverige (the Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association) Sweden recovers more energy from waste than any other country in Europe.

Throughout the rest of the continent there are roughly 450 waste-to-energy facilities, according to the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants, which have the capacity to process 73 million tonnes of waste a year.

These success stories have encouraged significant investment in energy from waste (EfW) projects throughout Australia.

In 2018, it was announced that world-leading German waste-to-energy company REMONDIS has plans to build a $400 million energy-from-waste facility in Swanbank, south of Ipswich, Queensland.

“The proposed plant will convert between 300,000 and 500,000 tonnes of waste per year to generate up to 50 megawatts of baseload electricity for Queensland households and businesses,” said Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning, Cameron Dick.

The 50 megawatts (MW) of baseload power the project could generate would be enough to power up to 50,000 homes, equivalent to a city similar in size to Cairns.

Over in Western Australia, The Clean Energy Finance Corp (CEFC) is committing up to $90 million towards Australia’s first large-scale energy from waste (EfW) project – a state-of-the-art plant at Kwinana in Western Australia capable of producing 36MW of electricity.

It’s estimated that when construction is finished, the $700 million Kwinana project will have the capacity to process around 400,000 tonnes of household ‘red bin’ and commercial and industrial residual waste a year. The plant will utilise technology that already has a strong track record in Europe and meets strict environmental requirements, and it’s expected to reduce CO2-e emissions by 400,000 tonnes per year, the equivalent to taking 85,000 cars off the road.

And in Victoria, the ABC recently reported that Australian Paper will proceed with its plan to develop its $600 million Maryvale plant in partnership with waste management company Suez (after completing an 18-month feasibility study) at the Latrobe Valley mill, east of Melbourne. It’s expected that the plant will generate 225 megawatts of thermal energy (MWth) and divert 650,000 tonnes of non-hazardous Gippsland and Melbourne rubbish from landfill.

As these projects, and more like them, come on stream and the technology continues to advance, it could herald a boom in energy from waste innovation and potential here in Australia. We’ll never look at our wheelie bins the same again!


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