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Key issues for waste-to-energy: The insider's perspective to seeking investment

Evgeniya Stefanovich

When it comes to seeking investment for to help bring your technology to market, the reality is that "it's brutal out there", writes Evgeniya Stefanovich.

Green Light Energy Solutions (GLES) began as a philanthropic idea to relieve our planet from landfills. Years of strenuous efforts, undying tolerance, determination, talent, and love for the invented technology has placed the company where it is today, on the doorsteps of commercialisation and wholesale manufacture.

Since 2006, GLES has seen a whole legion of investors, investor representatives, and consulting experts willing to introduce our technology to the major influencers in the market and potential technology distributors. The list is almost endless and it grows daily. Our discussions with investors has allowed for a successful Waste-to-Energy (WTE) demonstration facility construction, a must-do for innovative technologies in an emerging market. Interestingly, not only are project founders often in a fog when it comes to raising money for their ideas (and finding them all of a sudden), but the money holders are as well. These guys, who have so many investment portfolios and are under the constraints of the potential risks to consider, are on the scent of “one chance in a billion”.

GLES would like to share our inside perspective when it come to seeking investment. As the technology innovators, we would also like to specify key issues for WTE investors to consider while assessing their options.

The reality is that it's brutal out there. New technologies, especially those used to generate clean energy, typically require considerable early-stage investment to get them through R&D to prototype stage. The investor should consider this while reviewing any suggested project (WTE project in particular) and check the budget estimates for including this "must have" prototype stage.

Innovative technologies that make it through the R&D phase typically struggle to make the leap from prototype to commercial status. This is often due to investors’ continued reluctance to spend money on demonstration scale projects for as yet unproven technology and where no commercial returns are considered likely in the near future. As they technologies progress through each stage, the required levels of funding often increase - given the levels of funding required and the technology risk, there are a limited number of investors with the appetite for such risk. Investors should remember, however, that the highest risk promises the highest potential return. This is true for the WTE market, where clean energy and sustainable waste disposal bonuses present an asset, which can be sold on for a profit.

Potential funders should remember that there are some specific risks to investing in the WTE sector: 

  • Technology risks: Equipment may become obsolete as new technologies arrive. Therefore, the opportunity of making capital improvements is crucial. For example, consider the opportunity of scalability improvements to the WTE facility so that it potentially fits in smaller projects, as well as in bigger ones.
  • Geophysical risks: There is the risk that unpredictable weather patterns will lead to volatility in energy generation and revenue streams. This is particularly so for some technologies, such as wind and solar. However, weather risk is almost eliminated with WTE facilities, where waste is the main resource, so long-term energy yields are easily predicted.
  • Corporate classification risks: If the investor is a looking to expand it's business, it will be essential for them to reassess their industry classifications. Investments in renewables may not fit within their traditional “energy firm” classification.
  • Human factor risk: As the market is emerging, the number of market experts is limited, though they are essential for the successful launch of the innovative WTE technology project. Investors should make sure that they are dealing with the hot shot, and not just amateur idea holder.

And, finally, with all investments, the two key things to consider are your risk tolerance and investment horizon. Investors should be patient and realistic, especially while considering making long-term investments on the emerging WTE market. We agree that you should "figure out the big waves that you want to ride in the long term and position your surfboard accordingly." However, "the renewables revolution is a very big wave in the distance, and more and more people are lining up to catch it."

The latest technology

The emerging market for the latest WTE technologies is growing rapidly. While this is a niche of high-economic potential, a perfect storm of new technologies appears and tries to draw our attention. The technologies currently presented on the market include gasification, thermal depolymerization, pyrolysis, plasma arc gasification or plasma gasification process (PGP), including non-thermal technologies, such as anaerobic digestion, fermentation production, mechanical biological treatment.

GLES was one of the pioneers in deploying the high-temperature pyrolysis technology and producing equipment for processing municipal and industrial waste into energy. Today, we manufacture and supply key equipment of the Waste Conversion Pyrolysis (WCP) processing line. We believe high-temperature pyrolysis technology has a competitive advantage compared to the current WTE technologies mentioned above.

  • Complete waste recycling – 100% diversion of waste provided the carbon char is further used.
  • Environmental safety: no dioxins and furans in the atmospheric emissions and solid residue. The WCP facilities can even be located close to residential areas.
  • No toxic residues to dispose of.
  • Lowest operating cost among other competing conversion technologies achievable through re-use of the waste heat and own resources.
  • High productivity suitable for large cities: Unlike many other thermal conversion systems, each processing line can daily process 300-310 tons of unsorted municipal waste with moisture content 60%.
  • Energy efficiency: the unique WCP process allows extracting maximum energy potential contained in the waste materials in the form of high calorific syngas in order to generate over 5 MW*h electric energy, depending on the feedstock, from each eleven tons of raw municipal waste per hour. The system also generates heat energy and steam.
  • Ability to treat mixed waste streams: the system does not require separate collection of waste.
  • Renewable energy source: the system prevents greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere while generating renewable “green” energy and diverting biodegradable waste from landfills.
  • The WCP waste treatment project assumes several revenue sources.
    Below is a step-by-step guide to the technological process of high pyrolysis waste processing.

Step 1: Waste pre-processing and feeding system. Municipal solid waste is conveyed to the system through a specifically designed pre-processing line which includes filtering out materials that are not suitable for pyrolysis (metals, glass and inerts like concrete, stones, ceramics, etc), shredding and mechanical drying of the remaining waste stream. Filtered out recyclable materials make for 15-20% of the initial amount of waste, depending on its composition, and can be sold to the market, providing a significant source of revenue. The remaining waste stream is chipped into small pieces up to 50mm in diameter. In the dryer, the excess moisture is pressed out of the waste and its moisture content will be reduced down to 20% in order to provide higher conversion results. The properly prepared waste is finally collected in the storage bin.

Step 2: Pyrolysis of waste. The high-temperature pyrolysis process takes place in an indirectly heated pyrolytic chamber (a retort) at 700-750°C in an oxygen-free environment, allowing conversion of the waste into synthesis gas (90-98%) and a solid cocking residue, or carbon char (2-10%), without any liquid tar fractions being formed. The specific temperature regime, continuously maintained in the process chamber eliminates any dioxins or furans in the carbon char residue thereby allowing further use of this by-product. Dioxins are contained in syngas only.

Step 3: Thermal Oxidizer. Syngas is mixed with air in the main burner and directed to the oxidizer for combustion at temperatures exceeding 1200°? within at least 2.5 seconds. These controlled specific conditions in the oxidizer ensure complete destruction of dioxins and furans contained in the syngas and prevent their re-formation. The oxidized off-gasses have high thermal capacity and are partly utilized by the system to maintain the temperature in the pyrolytic chamber, thereby decreasing outside energy consumption (natural gas, or propane-butane) by 60%.

Step 4: Energy Generation. As oxidized gas leaves the thermal oxidizer, its high temperature is heat exchanged to a waste heat boiler. Thermal energy captured from the oxidized gas is converted into high temperature steam supplying energy to turbine generators, which in turn produce clean electric power.

Step 5: Pollution Control System. The cooled flue gasses are passed through a multi-stage wet and dry off-gas cleaning system to be cleaned of harmful and toxic impurities and safely released into the environment. Waste off-gasses utilized for pyrolysis reactor heating are also directed to the waste heat boiler, and, after being cooled, pass through a similar depuration system.


Evgeniya Stefanovich is Marketing Manager for Green Light Energy Solutions Corp.


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