A Norwegian company says it is the first in the world to test the possibility of capturing 100 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions from burning waste.
Aker Solutions, located in Fornebu, Norway, started a five-month test program in January to capture carbon emissions from the municipality-operated waste-to-energy Klemetsrud plant in Oslo, Norway.
“This is pioneering work with significant potential as the world focuses on finding ways to limit carbon emissions,” Valborg Lundegaard, head of Aker Solutions' engineering business, said in a statement. “As such, this pilot project is of international importance.”
The pilot project captures carbon dioxide by an amine solvent -- a liquid comprising of water and amines, which is used to absorb the carbon dioxide from the flue gas.
“The testing phase will last for about five months. No decision has been made regarding the next phase or a potential scale-up to full scale capture,” says Sirin Engen, CCS advisor for the Bellona Foundation, a non-profit confronting climate challenges and partner to Klemetsrud that is based in Oslo.
The test will be conducted using the company's mobile test unit for carbon capture. The gas released from Klemetsrud contains about 10 percent carbon dioxide and is treated in several steps before it enters the mobile unit. Klemetsrud, which gets a majority of its feedstock from biomass, emits about 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
"We expect to capture up to 90 percent of the CO2,” Oscar Graff, head of CCS at Aker Solutions, said in a statement. “The tests will verify important operating parameters such as energy consumption, solvent degradation, losses and required solvent make-up.”
With about 85 waste-to-energy facilities in the U.S. and U.S. EPA estimates about 13 percent of U.S. municipal solid waste (MSW) processed through WTE each year, if successful, the pilot may have an impact on the solid waste industry in the U.S., but not without its fair share of challenges.
“Klemetsrud could be the first carbon negative plant in the world. The development of this technology is vital for the world to be able to reach its climate targets,” says Engen. “Most of the world has yet to move from landfilling to proper waste management, which is what Klemetsrud stands for. In places where one has already made this transition, the technology developments at Klemetsrud could be extremely difficult. There are 450 similar plants in Europe alone, and they all need to deal with their CO2 emissions at some time.”
Anne Germain, director of waste and recycling technology for the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) in Washington, D.C., says that costs may prohibit adoption in the U.S.
“This is not something that is cheap,” she says. “Anything we’re going to be doing for climate change is obviously not going to be cheap. With this being more of an up-and-coming project it needs some proof of concept going forward on a larger scale.”
Jeremy O’Brien, director of applied research for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) based in Silver Spring, Md., agrees.
“The (U.S.) EPA's (waste reduction) WARM model shows that WTE facilities already reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts due to the displacement of fossil fuels and the avoidance of methane emissions from landfills,” he says. “I think that the capture of CO2 will add costs to the WTE option which is already more costly than landfill disposal. So I don't think this will have a significant impact expect in areas that place a very high value on CO2 reductions.”
While there are no known facilities in the U.S. attempting to capture carbon dioxide, U.S. companies are hoping the pilot will help reduce the costs of such a project over time.
“We are not aware of any other waste to energy facilities that are attempting to capture CO2. There are several large scale demonstration projects that are currently under various stages of development to capture CO2 in the utility industry, particularly for coal plants,” says Michael Van Brunt, director of sustainability for Covanta Energy based in Morristown, N.J. “For now, the technology is very expensive, and requires a substantial subsidy. We’re hopeful that demonstration projects, like the one in Oslo, will bring the costs down over time.”
Van Brunt says that other ways of reducing GHG emissions need to be focused on before the U.S. can jump into this kind of project.
“This project, if successful at a reasonable cost, can provide us yet another tool in reducing GHG emissions associated with managing wastes. However, we first need to make recycling, composting, and diverting materials from landfills our first priority,” he says. “With 250 million tons going to landfill, we’ve got a long way to go in the U.S. and the benefits could be big.”
Despite that long haul, Van Brunt says he thinks the U.S. can eventually give up its reliance on landfills in the future.
“It’s possible, but it will take concerted policy efforts to make that happen. Right now, landfilling is generally very cheap in the U.S., so there is little incentive to do something better with our waste,” he says. “In contrast, the European Union has been very successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a coordinated policy effort, including relatively high landfill taxes, that has resulted in a large growth in recycling, and to a lesser extent, landfilling.”
O’Brien agrees that the only way the U.S. can stop utilizing landfills is if a landfill policy like the European Union Landfill Directive is implemented at the federal level.
Germain says she thinks the U.S. will always have a need for landfills as a last resort for materials.
“There’s always going to be materials that they cannot sort and that material will have to be taken to a landfill,” she says. “It’s the same with the WTE facility. It decreases the volume of materials by 90 percent but there’s still that 10 percent of the material that is leftover because it cannot be burned due to pollutants or ash leftovers.”
There is potential to get close to zero waste and less reliance on landfills due to recent and ongoing social changes and a cultural shift, according to Germain.
“People have finally decided that they have enough stuff,” she says. “All of our stuff also is much lighter in weight – think of all of the electronics like TVs and phones. That leads to a reduction in material that’s generated. But realistically I do not think we are going to get to zero waste but we are moving in that direction.”