Exploring the world's built environments and seeking sustainable solutions.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Waste-to-energy treatment plant in Malmö

While in Malmö, Sweden, our class visited the SYSAV waste-to-energy plant. SYSAV processed more than 800,000 tons of waste in 2008 through incineration and recycling. Through a multi-step process that includes combustion, they extract energy from waste to generate electricity and hot water for district heating. While SYSAV serves the province of Skåne, it seems that the SYSAV plant is part of Malmö’s larger planning vision for reduced waste, increased recycling and renewable energy generation. SYSAV is successful in diverting the overwhelming majority of waste away from landfill. Additionally, the advanced cleaning system of waste reduces harmful emissions down to only CO2 in the final stage.

The plant is located in a heavy industrial area with views of the largest wind turbine in Sweden in the distance. We were still able to bike to the plant, but it was not centrally located in the city. Along the way to the plant, we rode past community garden plots and past Solar City Malmö.

Before starting a tour of the plant, we talked with the SYSAV Communication Director, who gave us an overview of the incineration process. While on the tour, there was signage throughout the building, providing an overview of each step in the process. Still, at times it was difficult to understand some of the waste-to-energy process because we did not hear a full explanation of the science behind some of the steps. As a result, many students had questions about the safety measures taken by SYSAV to prevent the burning of harmful chemicals in plastics and styrofoam.

From what we were told, styrofoam and plastic bags are burned along with other waste received by SYSAV. The SYSAV staff assured us that the smoke generated in that process is cleaned and that the release of dioxin is minimized. To many students, that didn’t seem safe. Other students had questions about the level of CO2 emissions from the plant. It was clear that the plant measures dioxin emissions and has decreased those emissions by significant amounts, but during the tour it was not clear if the carbon emissions are considered or evaluated. Lack of attention to carbon emissions and greenhouse gases (GhG) seemed to contradict the vision for Malmö to be a fully sustainable city. As some cities in the U.S. focus on reducing GhG, it seems that an incineration plant like SYSAV’s would not be considered a viable option in the U.S. without data on the amount of carbon emitted during the incineration process.

After the tour, one of the students researched carbon emissions from the plant. He found a great article on the growing role of waste-to-energy plants in the U.S. He also learned that CO2 emissions are minimized using a process like SYSAV's. Still, we will continue to ask questions and look for data that helps us understand systems and technology that we don’t typically use in the U.S.

*It is also worth mentioning that the plant had great and simple technology for tours. Along with our hardhats, SYSAV loaned us a set of earbuds that received a radio transmission. These allowed us to stay in tune with what our tour guide spoke about as we walked around, up and down the plant which was quite noisy at times.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jeff,

    By coincidende I stumbled over your page:-)I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the visit at SYSAV....and hopefully the rest of the trip in europe!

    I work as an environment consult for ramboll and we have done the design the line 3+4.

    Please contact me, if I can help with some information.