The rapid pace of urbanisation and industrialisation in Southeast Asia has led to a big surge in the volume of waste generated in the region. Major cities in several countries are running out of landfill sites – currently the most commonly used method for waste disposal. Moreover, the region’s urban population is projected to rise to nearly 400 million by 2030, thus further deepening its waste woes. With increasingly limited land availability and the steady growth of cities, the development of waste-to-energy (WtE) plants is being seen as an effective solution by several countries. In the coming years, the WtE segment is expected to play a crucial role in serving the twin goals of waste and energy management in the region.
Renewable Watch takes a look at some of the major operational and upcoming WtE projects in the region…
Singapore has been a forerunner in the development of WtE plants in Southeast Asia. The country’s first WtE plant, the Ulu Pandan plant, was set up in 1979. However, it was decommissioned in 2009 and replaced by the Keppel Seghers Tuas Plant (KSTP). Currently, there are four operational WtE plants in Singapore – Tuas, Senoko, Tuas South and KSTP – with the capacity to produce 259 MW of electricity per day. The Tuas South incineration plant is the country’s largest WtE facility, with the capacity to process 3,000 tonnes per day (tpd) of solid waste. The Tuas, Senoko and KSTP facilities have capacities of 1,700 tpd, 2,400 tpd and 800 tpd respectively. These plants together process around 37 per cent of the total waste generated in the country.
Moreover, two WtE plants are currently under development. The TuasOne WtE facility, with a capacity of 3,600 tpd, is expected to be completed by January 2021 and the Integrated Waste Management Facility will have an incineration capacity of 5,800 tpd, making it one of the largest in the world. In April 2020, the National Environment Agency awarded a Keppel Corporation-led consortium the contract for the first phase of the project. The group will design and build a 2,900 tpd WtE facility and a 250 tpd material recovery facility.
Indonesia, one of the largest waste producers in Southeast Asia, also aims to handle its waste management issues through the creation of WtE facilities. Currently, around 64 million tonnes of solid waste is produced annually in the country, with more than 75 per cent of it being disposed of in landfills. However, several of its landfills are running out of space. In fact, the country’s largest landfill site, Bantargebang, which caters to the capital city of Jakarta, is expected to reach its full capacity as early as 2021. In March 2017, the government launched a pilot project to develop a WtE facility at the Bantargebang landfill. The work was completed in March 2019. The facility can process 100 tonnes of waste on a daily basis and produce 700 kWh of electricity. Another facility, the Sunter WtE plant, with a capacity of 2,200 tpd, is also being developed in Jakarta. It is expected to be completed by 2021. Further, the country is moving forward with the development of 12 more WtE plants to tackle waste volumes in major cities such as Jakarta, Palembang Surabaya and Bekasi. These plants are due to be operational by 2022, and will be able to generate 234 MW of electricity by using 16,000 tpd of waste.
The development of WtE plants has gained momentum in Malaysia, which too relies on landfills for waste disposal. The country’s first WtE plant, located at Tanah Merah in the state of Negeri Sembilan, is expected to commence operations in 2020. The plant will be able to handle 1,000 tpd of waste and produce 20-25 MW of electricity to power 25,000 households. There are also plans to develop a WtE facility at Jeram in Selangor. The plant, which is expected to be completed by 2022, will be one of the biggest incinerators in Malaysia. Besides, WtE facilities are being considered in the states of Johor, Kedah and Melaka.
In Thailand, around 50 per cent of the total waste generated is disposed of in landfills. To solve the country’s waste management problems, the government is promoting the development of various WtE plants, including incineration, gasification and fermentation, by offering various subsidies and tax incentives. It has also increased the power purchase quota under the Power Development Plan 2018-2037, from 500 MW to 900 MW, to boost investments. Currently, there are 33 operational WtE plants in the country, with an overall power generation capacity of 283 MW.
Myanmar’s first WtE plant, located in Yangon, commenced commercial operations in 2017. The 760 kW plant has the capacity to treat 60 tpd of waste. A second WtE project is currently under implementation in Yangon. Construction is expected to begin in 2020. Upon completion in 2022, the facility will be able to process 1,000 tonnes of the 2,500 tonnes of waste produced in Yangon per day. It will be located at the Htein Pin landfill in the Hlaing Tharyar township of the city. It will be able to produce 30 tonnes of compressed natural gas daily, 40 tonnes of liquefied carbon dioxide, 180 tonnes of derivative waste fuel and 250 tonnes of compost.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy has launched a project to convert waste into energy in Phnom Penh city. The project is expected to get technical support from the Asian Development Bank. The development of WtE plants has also been prioritised under the country’s draft national policy on managing and processing waste material.
The country’s first WtE plant was established in 2018 in Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu. The facility can generate 3 MW of power, of which 1 MW is used to meet its own energy requirements. Several other WtE projects are currently being undertaken in the country. A WtE facility involving an investment of PhP 2.1 billion will be developed in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan. It will use 110 tpd as fuel or feedstock to generate 5.5 MW of electricity. Another plant worth PhP 2.5 billion will be set up in Tugbok district of Davao City. It will be able to process 600 tpd of waste and is expected to be completed by 2021.
In Vietnam, where more than 70 per cent of the waste is currently dumped in landfills, the development of WtE plants is being considered a potential solution for waste management. It is estimated that with WtE facilities in place, the country can produce around 6 billion kWh of energy by 2050 just from waste. Currently, the WtE plants in Vietnam include the Nam Son facility in Hanoi, with a capacity of 1.93 MW, and the Go Cat waste handling project in Ho Chi Minh City, with a capacity of 2.4 MW. Future WtE projects will focus on increasing the number and capacity of plants in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta.
Key issues and challenges
While several Southeast Asian countries have a number of policies to encourage and support the development of WtE facilities, the lack of coordination and cooperation among multiple stakeholders, including the government and municipalities, for supply of waste and land can hamper the smooth working and efficiency of these plants. The consistency and quality of waste can also affect plant performance. Many countries in the region have limited waste sorting processes and regulatory requirements to ensure sorting. The presence of a significant amount of wet waste can reduce the ability of incineration plants to reach the high temperatures needed to produce electricity. Besides, WtE plants can have an adverse environmental impact because of toxic emissions and ash by-products. Small plants might cause more pollution as they do not have the same environmental protection systems as larger plants. Such pollution and health concerns have led to protests from some local communities and civil society groups in several countries in the region.
The way forward
A continuous increase in the region’s population, coupled with rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, is expected to create substantial demand for WtE facilities in Southeast Asia. However, several issues associated with these plants, such as the environmental impact and scientific disposal of waste, need to be addressed for effective and sustainable execution of projects. These plants produce ash that needs to be safely disposed of, usually in landfills that are lined with barriers to prevent groundwater contamination. Further, there is a need to move beyond traditional incineration processes to more advanced WtE technologies in order to mitigate the adverse environmental impact. A proper waste sorting system also needs to be established to improve the functioning of WtE facilities. Governments, businesses and residents all need to work collaboratively to ensure that waste collection and transportation activities are carried out efficiently.