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Producing electricity and heat using waste may soon become a popular phenomenon in Poland. There are already eight waste incineration plants operating in the country, which annually process a total of approximately 1.1m tonnes of waste and generate energy, and the planned investments are to increase the amount of waste incinerated to approximately 2m tonnes per year. Local self-governments are beginning to take an interest in the projects, and because of limited funds, they are using the public-private partnership offered by companies.
Waste incineration plants operating in Poland were established over 10 years ago in large cities, including Kraków and Poznań, and one of the older investments of this type is the Municipal Waste Neutralisation Plant in Warsaw, which was established almost 20 years ago and is currently being expanded. Incineration plants in Poland make it possible to generate energy from approximately 10% of municipal waste, however, the projects implemented may increase this number.
PPP as a solution for local governments?
Public-private partnership (PPP) enables local governments to manage investments, which are financed and built by private investors. Projects realized in such a formula are being developed in Gdansk and Olsztyn. The construction companies responsible for those investments are, respectively, Astaldi, Termomeccanica Ecologia and the energy company Dalkia, as well as the Urbaser company and the Meridiam fund. According to the contracts, the private companies will operate the incineration plants for 25 years. Projects connected with incineration plants are also planned in other cities, e.g. in Włocławek, where a smaller investment is to be created, in Bełchatów, where PGE wants to invest, and in Łódź.
Smaller cities are also looking at waste management for energy generation purposes. One example is Starachowice, where in August 2021 a contract was signed with the Control Process company, worth over PLN 100 million. Thanks to the installation, the city will be able to burn 30,000 tonnes of waste per year. More than two-thirds of the funds needed have been obtained from a loan from the Voivodeship Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. The second investment of this type is the incineration plant in Krosno, which will manage 22,000 tonnes of waste per year. A consortium of Instal Warszawa and Dalkia Wastenergy is responsible for the project, and almost all of the financing for the 135-million euro investment will be provided by the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. In total, the city will receive over 111 million PLN of support in the form of grants and a preventive loan.
The National Waste Management Plan, which is to be published in June 2022, is to estimate how many new incineration plants can be built in Poland. It is worth mentioning that under the requirements of EU directives, Poland may incinerate up to 30% of the collected waste, and cement plants are also responsible for the management of municipal waste, which produces alternative fuel from waste to fuel their furnaces.
New strategy for the heating sector
In the fourth quarter of 2021, the government will deal with the “Draft resolution of the Council of Ministers on the adoption of the Strategy for the heating sector until 2030 with an outlook to 2040”. It shows that heat from municipal waste will be used on a large scale in Poland in the future. As indicated in the draft, it is intended to support the development of installations for the thermal conversion of municipal waste in modern installations meeting strict environmental criteria, generating electricity and heat in cogeneration.
Incinerators will support modernised district heating?
The waste-to-energy plant under construction in Olsztyn, which is due to be completed in July 2023, will have an additional district heating section. Two gas- or oil-fired boilers with a total capacity of 76 MWt will provide a backup heat source. According to Rafał Psik, project director on behalf of the general contractor, the South Korean Doosan Group, numerous sorting plants in Poland have failed to deal with the problem of calorific waste fractions, i.e. waste which cannot be stored or managed. Their volume may amount to as much as 4m tonnes a year, while the capacity of the incineration plants in operation is about 1.5m tonnes. A similar amount of waste is also managed by cement works, but in their case no further increase in capacity is possible.
Waste can be used as fuel for modernised district heating, but the success of such investments depends on financing. Local authorities opt for PPPs, as this model makes it possible to obtain subsidies that cannot be used by private entities. Once an incineration plant is up and running, local governments take care of delivering waste to the plant, while private investors act as project operators for a limited time. Difficulties in raising funds, which force cooperation with the private sector, are caused by the inability to receive EU funds for this type of investment.
Will waste replace coal?
According to Artur Pielech, president of FBSerwis, waste incineration plants may be a way to abandon the use of coal in district heating. Such a solution will reduce the burden related to participation in the CO2 emission trading system. Additionally, waste can be used to produce alternative fuel in the form of RDF, which is used by cement plants.
According to estimates by the president of FBSerwis, about 2m tonnes of waste can still be managed in incineration plants, which is why there will be further investments in the future to use this excess waste. There will probably be room for 10-20 more facilities, depending on the size of the planned projects.
FBSerwis is currently working with Budimex on an incineration plant project that could be built on the site of the Ciech Soda Polska plant in Janikowo. The facility could use up to 280,000 tonnes of waste per year and the energy obtained would be used by the factory.
Incineration plants market will develop
The potential in the incineration market means opportunities not only for waste management companies but also for investment subcontractors. One example of large orders in this sector can be the company Mostostal Zabrze, which has been involved in the construction and servicing of incineration plants for 20 years and has serviced over 25 facilities, most of which are located in Western Europe. The company has signed a contract worth PLN400m, under which it will expand the Warsaw incineration plant. The contract amounted to 1/4 of the whole investment’s value and the company will carry out its tasks for 3 years.
According to the president of the company, Dariusz Pietyszuk, some industry calculations indicate that the mass of municipal waste produced in Poland may be underestimated by 2-3m tonnes. According to the Central Statistical Office, a statistical Pole produces about 350 kg of waste per year, while the European average is about 500 kg. More waste per inhabitant is produced in richer countries, and in Denmark, this figure is as high as 850 kg of waste per person.
Waste incinerators are no longer supported by the EU
Although thanks to EU funds most municipal incineration plants in Poland have been built, future investments can no longer count on similar financial support. This is due to the EU’s assumptions, which place greater emphasis on the appropriate hierarchy of waste treatment, while the task of incinerators is only to use the so-called residual waste.
European funds support the development of innovative waste projects, such as those related to the production of hydrogen from waste and “accelerated carbonisation”. The second project will transform residues from waste incineration plants into carbonate minerals using CO2 captured from the refinery and the final product of this process will be aggregate, which will be used in the construction sector. Two more incineration projects in Norway and Denmark, which are to be equipped with CO2 capture technology, are awaiting a decision on whether to receive funding.
The use of CCS installations significantly increases the cost of the investment but reduces the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. In the future, waste incineration plants may be added to the EU Emissions Trading System, so investors should take this into account when planning future projects. It is worth noting that incinerators have higher CO2 emissions per unit of energy produced because the efficiency of this way of generating energy is lower when compared to other fuels.