An innovative closed loop system will see neighbourhood rubbish burnt to produce heat and power for the community.
The notion that waste can be turned into energy seems as fanciful as turning water into wine. But this is no modern day miracle: it’s a proven technology that has the potential to provide a significant amount of UK plc’s domestic energy needs while reducing the nation’s over dependency on landfill.
Waste to energy technology can limit pollution and methane emissions, providing a low-carbon alternative source of energy. It produces large amounts of heat and power for district networks and is commonly used in Scandinavia. Although there has been some opposition to it in the UK as it can reduce the encouragement for reusing and recycling waste, it can also provide a good clean energy solution.
The process begins with the sorting and collection of domestic waste. Instead of choosing a conventional rubbish collection process, with attendant refuse vehicles accessing the site, the developer has elected to install an automated underground vacuum waste system procured from Envac that demonstrably increases recycling rates.
Jordana Malik, head of communications at Renewal Group, said: “Our 30-acre site has restricted access by two railway lines and will be a very densely built site. So on one hand we needed a solution that would work within those constraints, while on the other Lewisham Council are keen to support efforts to improve recycling rates in the Borough, which the system does.”
At Wembley City, where Envac has installed an operational system, recycling rates are 50%. Julian Gaylor managing director at Envac UK, said: “Twenty five% is the norm in London boroughs, and that rate falls to as low as 10% in dense, urban environments where the majority of properties are apartments.
“We have found, to encourage use, it’s vital to make it easy for people and a strong educational process and backup is needed. Our system is built into the fabric of the building on high-rise structures and residents simply sort their refuse into different types, for example paper, tin, plastic and food waste, and drop it into the shutes where it’s carried away and recycled.”
The next stage in the process at Surrey Canal will be the processing of the waste once what is recyclable has been extracted into energy. Herein, the developer and Envac have partnered with neighbouring Lewisham power plant, SELCHP, to feed waste directly into the facility from which to generate energy for the entire community to use.
“The outcome of the process will be zero waste to landfill,” said Gaylor, “and every resident will benefit directly through hot water, via a district heating system, generated effectively from their own refuse.” The energy generated will also be utilised in the community aspects being developed at Surrey Canal, including a comprehensive sports village and a multi-faith centre.
Malik says the cost to install the Envac system will be more than conventional refuse collection charges and that issues such as residents paying Council Tax despite there being no rubbish to collect is challenging but a direct cost equation cannot easily be made. And can one put a price on quality of life, and a reduction in CO2 emissions?
Ensuring the waste and district hearting systems exceed residents’ expectations is a further challenge. “Many people we have consulted remember systems that didn’t work or broke down,” said Malik. “Our aim is to deliver a system in 2021, when Surrey Canal will be completed, that is still as relevant then as it was when it was procured in 2011. In that sense we have to try to ‘future proof’ as best we can.”
The hurdles to be jumped are significant for the four partnering agents Renewal Group, Envac, SELCHP and Lewisham Council but the upshot of their combined place-making efforts at Surrey Canal, should the ambition be realised, will be an exemplar 21st century sustainable community, where the water is not turned into wine but heated from the residents’ own waste.
Thank you to our guest blogger, Gordon Miller for his contribution.