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Irish Examiner - 11-07-07
Why incineration is such a waste

IT SEEMS the Poolbeg incinerator debacle continues apace with even the Greens apparently resigned to its inevitability.

I can only surmise that the reason this white elephant is still being pursued is because policymakers think municipal ‘waste’ is a problem that is inherently costly to deal with.

In this case, attitudes need to change and, instead of thinking purely in terms of waste disposal, we should evaluate incineration against alternative technologies as a source of revenue.

Under a best-case scenario, the €266 million facility would generate 29 megawatts of electricity — a capital cost of €9,200 per kilowatt of installed capacity. This is around 20 times the cost of a gas-fired power station and five times that of a nuclear facility.

Yet while these stations pay for fuel, incineration is so inefficient that the facility will need a gate-fee charge of €88 per tonne.

This is €30 per tonne more than existing landfill fees and will surely lead to increased bin charges. Final economics may be worse if the alleged costs are compared with other schemes — a similar proposal for Liverpool will cost £300m-£400m to build, with projected costs over 20 years of between £1.75 billion and £2 billion.

In contrast, there are several technologies that will profitably provide fuels and chemicals from wastes.

For example, one process, at a capital cost of under €60m, could give at least €100m litres of ethanol from the ‘waste’ planned for Poolbeg. Other processes could offer higher yields at greater capital costs, although still substantially less than those for the proposed incinerator. These volumes could satisfy the EU directive for the biofuel content of petrol by 2010. Also, operational costs would be less than 33 cent per litre (petrol equivalent) — very competitive since petrol costs 50 cent per litre, pre-tax.

Hence, current gate fees could be abolished once capital costs arereclaimed, and the savings passed on to households. Importantly, such facilities could be located at more convenient sites than Poolbeg, reducing traffic problems.

Environment Minister John Gormley, whose web page still contains anti-incinerator articles, is wrong when he says it is too late to stop Poolbeg. He could insist that future gate fees at any waste facility are no greater than existing landfill charges. In such a scenario, incineration could not go forward, but bio-refineries would prosper. The adjudication process for waste treatment facilities has not considered ethanol production.

Our group at the University of Limerick proposes an open debate with the Dublin engineers on incineration and alternative technologies.

We believe this is the best way to address the interests of taxpayers and that such a debate would alert people that their ‘waste’ has significant environmental and commercial value.

Daniel J Hayes
IRCSET Research Student
Chemical and
Environmental Sciences
University of Limerick


Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment
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