European Waste-to-Energy sector’s contribution to EU Net Zero

The European Waste-to-Energy sector is already carbon neutral today and with adequate political support it can become carbon negative in the future, according to the new CEWEP Waste-to-Energy Climate Roadmap presented on 21st June 2022 in Brussels.
Martin Kummer;
Martin Kummer;

“We now have a concrete base, peer-reviewed calculations showing that Waste-to-Energy is part of the solution to the climate crisis that we are in. With appropriate support from the policymakers the sector can be a substantial contributor to the EU’s goal of Net Zero emissions by 2050.”, said Paul De Bruycker, the President of CEWEP.

Waste-to-Energy (WtE) plants fulfil a pivotal hygienic task for the society by treating the waste that cannot be prevented or recycled. This also includes the unrecyclable plastic waste that is the main source of the fossil CO2 emitted by WtE plants. However, the sector completely offsets these emissions by substituting energy that would otherwise be produced from fossil fuels (e.g. the sector produces the equivalent of 9% of the EU natural gas imports from Russia) and by recovering ferrous and non-ferrous metals from the bottom ash, the leftover of the incineration process.

The new CEWEP Climate Roadmap shows that much more could be achieved. The WtE sector has a full potential to go from carbon neutral to carbon negative using Carbon Capture and Usage/Storage (CCUS). Just by applying CCUS technologies to 50% of the European WtE capacity capturing 50% of the total CO2 emissions, 20 million tonnes of CO2eq every year could be saved. And, once CCUS technologies reach full commercial maturity, with a broader integration of carbon capture equipment, greater reduction potentials for the sector can be foreseen.

The new findings are also supported by the recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stating that “The integration of WtE and carbon capture and storage (CCS) could enable waste to be a net zero or even net negative emissions energy source.”

WtE is an established, secure, and sustainable energy provider for both electricity and heat that uses residual materials that cannot be further recycled. The only alternative for this waste is landfilling which emits methane, a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 86 times higher than CO2 in a 20-year perspective.

For WtE, CCUS is an extra but effective tool for reaching net negative CO2 emissions. A number of innovative projects have kicked-off across Europe in the last years. The sector is studying the best solutions for integrating CCUS technologies on a case-by-case basis while guaranteeing full compliance with high environmental standards.


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