Energy from Waste and the Circular Economy

The Energy Research Accelerator (ERA) and the Birmingham Energy Institute have launched a policy commission to examine the state of play, barriers, challenges, and opportunities for Energy from Waste (EfW) to form part of the regional energy circular economy in the Midlands. This policy commission explores the case for regional investment whilst helping shape the regional, local government and industry thinking surrounding critical issues such as fuel poverty and poor air quality.

The Energy from Waste and the Circular Economy Policy Commission

Energy from Waste and the Circular Economy - A Birmingham Policy Commission

The Challenge 

Tackling climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. To follow the path for limiting global warming below 2ᵒC, set out in the 2015 Paris agreement, requires significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The UK has committed to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 requiring action at a local, regional and national level to transition to a zero carbon economy.

To decarbonise and decentralise the UK’s energy system we must implement technologies that provide energy supply solutions across the UK.

In the Midlands, many industrial sites are unable to access supply of affordable, clean and reliable energy to meet their demands.

Energy from Waste (EfW) could offer a solution to the Midlands based industrial sites. EfW sites provide affordable, secure energy supply solutions that form part of a developing circular economy. EfW reduces our reliance on landfills and obtains the maximum value from our waste streams. There are a number of merging technologies that could potentially play an important role which treats waste as a resource, properly integrated into an energy and transport system and fully respects the potential of linking in the circular economy.

Investment into EfW infrastructure in the region could lead to job creation and economic growth and could help provide inward investment needed to redevelop old industrial sites and retiring power stations. However, for EfW to be part of a net-zero energy system (either in transition or long-term), technologies and processes are needed that reduce the current carbon emissions burden.

EfW could play a significant role in the net zero carbon transition in the Midlands, supplying heat, power and green fuels and solve other problems - the region has some of the highest levels of energy/fuel poverty and poor air quality in the UK.  The policy commission will help shape the regional, local government and industry thinking surrounding this important topic.

Report Recommendations 

Recovery Resource Cluster

The EfW policy commission proposes three major areas where it believes that government investment would be highly beneficial:

  1. Building a network of local and regional Resource Recovery Clusters
  2. Creating a National Centre for the Circular Economy
  3. Launching an R&D Grand Challenge to develop small-scale circular carbon capture technologies.

The Resource Recovery Clusters (RRC) will be developed on post-industrial sites, which could produce significant environmental, economic and regeneration benefits. The RRCs combine a spread of EfW and recycling technologies with businesses that can consume their cheap electricity, heat, fuels, CO2 and material outputs.

The National Centre for the Circular Economy would analyse material flows throughout the economy down to regional and local levels and develop deep expertise in recycling and EfW technologies. The CCE would also provide expert guidance and support for local authorities as they develop local or regional strategies and planning frameworks.

The R&D Grand Challenge aims to make big advances in small-scale carbon capture technologies in order to turn 100% of CO2 produced through the process of converting waste to energy into useful products. This is very important for areas such as the Midlands which are remoted from depleted oil and gas reservoirs.

Energy from waste and the Circular Economy policy commission report, published June 2020 (pdf - 17mb)

Energy from waste and the Circular Economy briefing note (pdf)

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