New EU roadmap: Making existing WtE processes more energy efficient

Müllverbrennungsanlage (Foto: Kroll/

Brussels – In a majority of Member States energy and other resources contained in waste are being lost through improper management. In certain cases, waste management planning, at the base, of forward-thinking solutions, have become obsolete or lack enough coherence to achieve the objectives and targets laid down by EU legislation. The EU Commission calls for more action at Member States‘ level so as to curb the current high landfill rate and turn this into opportunities directed to meet the recycling targets and extract the energy from non-recyclable waste in an efficient manner. 

According to „Exploiting the potential of waste to energy under the energy and framework strategy and the circular economy“, a communication initiative will assess how existing WtE processes (e.g. incineration, co-incineration) and other emerging improved processes e.g. gasification can be optimised through new technology and changes in operational parameters. For this purpose, the information obtained through the ongoing work related to the Best Available Techniques reference documents (BREFs) will be utilised as needed.

Another way to make such processes more efficient is through their coupling with the existing and the development of district heating and cooling networks to provide heat to households and industry. Energy recovery is dominating the share of WtE, especially in the field of municipal waste, where a number of WtE plants are integrated with district heating networks. Incineration which only recovers energy in the form of electricity is relatively inefficient (approximately 23 per cent efficiency) as compared to Combined Heat and Power (CHP) processes (up to 90 per cent efficiency).

The development and expansion of efficient district heating and cooling systems present untapped potentials for an efficient use of WtE, especially when combined with cogeneration. In such cases, however, the residual waste (fly ash containing hazardous waste) and associated management costs can be particularly high. Also, investments tend to be long term, capital intensive and social opposition can be a hindrance to their development due to concerns related to air emissions.

As stated above, improved WtE technology is presently becoming mainstream (e.g. gasification). Some operate at high temperature, thereby facilitating the abatement of air emissions and the minimisation of residual waste. Therefore, the Communication should also address the role of new available technology for non-recyclable combustible waste.

Some Member States (Sweden, Denmark, Estonia) show incineration (with energy recovery) overcapacities (especially for municipal waste) while the south eastern part of the EU shows no capacity at all and high landfill rates. This uneven distribution results in shipment of waste for energy recovery across the EU. Taking into account relevant provisions in EU waste legislation and the need to prevent illegal shipments of waste the Communication should thus consider to what extent shipments of combustible non-recyclable waste from Member States with a high landfill rate and insufficient WtE capacity towards Member States with WtE overcapacities might contribute to better waste management and to a more efficient use of the network of WtE facilities in the EU.

The full paper on „Exploiting the potential of waste to energy under the energy and framework strategy and the circular economy“ can be downloaded under

Source: EU commission