Winning acceptance for waste incineration through effective monitoring

As pressures to reduce landfill continue, putting incineration high on the agenda, Steve Donnelly, analytical sales specialist, ABB, discusses the key issues surrounding incineration and the importance of choosing the right instrumentation and monitoring systems.

The UK is currently lagging behind its European neighbours in recovering energy from waste, incinerating just 11 per cent of its municipal waste. By comparison, the European average is 17.3 per cent, with Denmark recovering energy from 54 per cent of its municipal waste.

DEFRA is currently in the middle of a major review of waste policy. Whatever the outcome, there seems little doubt that incineration will need to play a key role if national and local government organisations are going to stay on track to meet their targets.

Incineration is not without its critics. A quick scan of the news reveals plans for new waste-to-energy facilities are sparking vocal opposition from groups around the country, but many of these schemes will have to go ahead if councils are to meet their goals for diverting waste from landfill.

There will always be people that oppose waste incineration, but many will be reassured to know that legislation and technology have combined to minimise the risk incinerators pose to health and the environment.

For example, the Environment Agency (EA) acknowledges that incinerators used to be among the biggest emitters of dioxins, but stresses they’re now among the lowest. Such improvements have been driven by technical progress in combination with tighter regulation. The key legislative driver across Europe is the Waste Incineration Directive (2000/76/EC).

The Directive applies to a range of different types of incinerators, including those processing hazardous chemical or clinical waste, which may be owned and operated by specific waste producers or may serve multiple clients on a contract basis. It also includes co-incineration plants such as cement works, which burn waste as a fuel.

The incineration plants under the Directive are required to keep track of a variety of contaminants, including carbon dioxide, oxygen and water vapour, total organic carbon, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, dust and oxides of both sulphur and nitrogen. The monitoring must be continuous, providing average readings every half hour and each day.

There are strict limits on how much data can be discarded when drawing up these averages. For example, each half hour average must take into account at least 20 minutes of data, while only five half-hourly averages can be discarded to reach each daily average. No more than ten daily values can be discarded per year owing to problems with maintenance of the monitoring system. It all adds up to a demand for effective uptime of 97% from the monitoring system.

It’s imperative to choose the right instrumentation and monitoring systems, which is why the EA established the MCERTS scheme; designed to ensure that monitoring systems are fit for purpose, including the equipment, techniques, organisations and responsible personnel.

The EA requires process owners and operators to use instrumentation from an approved list, available from Sira, which operates the scheme on behalf of the EA. Users are obliged to choose instruments from the approved MCERTS list, but there are still choices to be made within that.

Reputable equipment suppliers are a great source of support and advice, so it’s important to pick the right one. Consider the company as a whole; where do they manufacture, how much experience do they have with CEMS? What sort of warranties do they provide? Do they have experience integrating with third-party products and can they supply references? Consider paying a visit to existing customers if possible.

The other big issue is the level of support available and whether it matches your expectations and needs. In addition to being a legal obligation, proper monitoring will be essential in building public confidence and getting support for the next generation of waste-to-energy facilities.

The public needs to know that the proposed incinerators will not pose a significant risk to their health or the environment, and monitoring provides an effective way of providing the necessary reassurance.

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