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Analysis

Waste to Energy Potential Not Well Utilized

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 09:23

According to SEMARNAT reports, very few municipalities have waste management programs. Most of those that do are part of the metropolitan areas of Aguascalientes or Monterrey, while Chiapas and Oaxaca have the least programs in place. There has been some progress made in recent years, but there is still a lack of infrastructure, public policies, and normativity in this area. Most municipalities have not regulated their waste management operations and those that do usually only have set regulations and processes for garbage collection. In fact only 13 of Mexico’s 32 states practice selective waste collection, which explains why only 9.6% of the country’s total collected waste in 2012 was recycled.

“Mexico has a waste management problem.” The words of Roberto Olmos, International Affairs Manager for Ferrostaal, are not meant to overstate the obvious but to highlight a window of opportunity. The company has its headquarters in Germany, although it is guided internationally by areas it finds to be fruitful and opens local offices whenever it identifies an opportunity. Portugal and Spain are important energy production centers for the firm as these countries have set an example in terms of integral designs for industrial parks, recycling facilities, and energy generating plants. “Spain has particularly provided a great lesson, but behind the efforts were regulations,” Olmos adds.

This international platform gives Ferrostaal the perspective from which to advise Mexico on one of its main challenges: getting municipalities to manage the increasing volume of waste that is being produced. The current model manages waste in two steps: collection and disposal. A more advanced model would entail separation, transference, recovery, and final use. In this integral management method, the waste can become useful at various stages throughout the process. Some elements can be recovered and reused or recycled, as in the case of cardboard, paper, or PET plastic. For Olmos, solid municipal waste also provides an alternative for energy generation and Ferrostaal has the technology to capitalize on this.

Many industries in Mexico already have access to technologies that generate heat from solid materials, but Olmos says these users face challenges including the lack of regulations and incentives for investors. Guidelines should be strengthened to ensure waste is truly managed, instead of being disposed of in landfills with dubious safety conditions. “Burying trash instead of properly disposing of it is dangerous, mainly because there is no control over the types of waste that are being thrown out,” warns Olmos, adding that current disposal techniques can seriously pollute water mantles.

Ferrostaal is interested in applying its resources and technology to turn solid waste into energy. Heat energy, for example, can be transformed into vapor, that can be used to generate electricity. The multinational firm carried out a thorough analysis and concluded that Mexico has an enormous potential for waste-to-energy, if this industry taps into municipal garbage disposal. Several plants belonging to Ferrostaal are already operating and yielding positive results, such as facilities that recycle tires and use some of the recovered materials as an alternative fuel source.

If policies and norms are created and enforced, energy generation from waste can alleviate Mexico’s garbage accumulation problem while producing energy. The complex landscape has led Ferrostaal to turn its attention to other vast and neglected sectors such as recycling. “We are well armed and prepared to participate in any sector that needs our presence,” says Olmos. Ferrostaal has made several calculations and estimates that municipal waste production will grow at 3% on average annually until 2025. Although the landscape looks promising, regulations are essential for the industry to spark off. In the meantime, Ferrostaal is preparing to wade into the market once the regulatory framework has been set.