INCINERATION: Industry Execs See Bright Future For Incineration

Incinerator construction remains a large business for U.S.-based companies, according to a recent survey of incinerator construction executives.

In spite of public resistance and regulatory challenges, $2 billion was spent to construct or purchase new incinerators in 1994. In addition, $500 million was spent to upgrade incineration equipment.

The future of the incineration industry is bright, according to 15 executives who participated in the study sponsored by Future Technology Surveys Inc., Lilburn, Ga. New incinerator markets, for example, have been forecasted to reach $3 billion in 1999 and owners are expected to spend an additional $2 billion to upgrade and modernize incineration equipment.

International opportunities have helped spur market growth. While approximately 30 percent of U.S. incineration firms' revenues come from international sales, exports may account for as much as 50 percent of sales in 1999.

To date, little research has been done to develop technology for air pollution controls. Other areas needing technological attention include continuous emissions monitoring equipment, dioxin and NOx process controls and trace pollutants. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colo., the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cincinnati, are presently addressing some of these needs.

Within the last five years, however, the industry has seen advances in air pollution control and monitoring, computer process controls, automatic feeding systems and improved combustion. The next five years are likely to produce advances in ash handling, improved energy efficiency and design features that will allow greater use of diverse feedstocks as well as pollution abatement and automation.

It was more difficult for the survey participants to predict the future of public opinion, which plays a major role in siting incinerators. Some respondents believed that incineration will increase as a disposal option while others foresee continued dwindling support for the on-site incineration industry.

Incineration's large market can be attributed to the diversity of applications, including MSW, hazardous wastes, remediation, sewage sludge, industrial and agricultural wastes and tires.

Certain market sectors will diminish as a result of regulations and industry trends. For example, waste minimization and pollution prevention efforts by U.S. industries are expected to reduce the market for hazardous waste services; this, in turn, will hinder the future of new off-site hazardous waste incinerators.

In contrast, the current market for mobile hazardous waste and medical waste incinerators (particularly regional facilities) will grow as air pollution control problems put existing units out of operation.

Similar shifts can be expected in the markets for various incinerator types (see chart). For example, the market for infrared incinerators will diminish, while the market for fume incinerators is expected to grow over the next five years.

Also expect to see continued consolidation in this highly-competitive industry. More than 20 percent of current vendors may be removed from the industry's ranks.

To stay in the game, tomorrow's firms can follow the path forged by today's successful companies: achieve a competitive edge through customer service, advanced control systems, state-of-the-art air pollution control systems and pricing.