Our latest research reveals that using carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology on Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities could be some of the cheapest use of CCUS of any industrial sector, underpinning the UK’s Net Zero strategy, thanks in large part to the location of many facilities close to potential CCUS clusters and port hubs.

The new report, titled ‘CCUS Development Pathway for the EfW Sector’ and commissioned by recycling and waste management company Viridor, examines the opportunities for development of the technology over the coming decades and the associated costs of implementing CCUS in the EfW sector.

To achieve the government’s target of Net Zero by 2050, all industrial sectors will need to decarbonise as far as they can. Decarbonising non-recyclable waste will be essential to delivering Net Zero in 2050, according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC). Eunomia’s research suggests deployment of CCUS on EfW presents a significant opportunity to not only provide a viable route to decarbonising a key part of the waste sector and deliver negative emissions, but for the waste sector to help drive wider deployment of CCUS at scale in the UK.

The government’s latest iteration of its CCUS policy expects that CCUS will initially develop in ‘clusters’ around industrial emitters that have access to suitable offshore storage locations. Costs of CCUS on EfW facilities are expected to range between £66 per tonne of CO2 and £110 per tonne of CO2, with the lower costs relating to EfW facilities in closer proximity to CCUS clusters due to shared infrastructure.

CCUS on EfW facilities close to CCUS clusters would appear to be at least as cost-effective as, and possibly cheaper than, other industrial sectors. Transportation of captured CO2 from areas outside of CCUS clusters is likely to be the main point of cost difference between other sectors.

There are currently 48 operational EfW (incineration) facilities in the UK, with a further 16 under construction. These are ideally placed to underpin development of industrial CCUS clusters, with 15 facilities (10 operational, 5 under construction) within 30 kilometres (km) of potential CCUS clusters and 14 (12 operational, 2 under construction) within 30km of a potentially suitable port (See Figure 1 for map of UK EfW facilities in relation to CCUS Clusters and ports).

The deployment of EfW with CCUS is anticipated to develop in three distinct phases:

  • 2020s – EfW within close proximity to CCUS clusters (15 EfW facilities);
  • 2030s – EfW with close proximity to port hubs (14 EfW facilities); and
  • 2040s – Dispersed EfW (35 EfW facilities).

The UK’s EfW facilities processed approximately 14 million tonnes of waste in 2020, and Eunomia’s analysis estimates that 1 tonne of CO2 is emitted per tonne of waste incinerated, including non-fossil carbon.

By 2040, CCUS technology has the potential to capture and permanently store around 9.4 million tonnes of CO2 per annum from EfW facilities, around 50% of which is non-fossil carbon (See Figure 2 for potential CO2 abatement), providing the potentially significant benefit of negative emissions. These captured emissions could be monetised in the future and present a further opportunity regarding costs versus other industrial sectors.

Our research suggests that there is a key role for CCUS in reducing emissions from incineration by decarbonising non-recyclable waste. This can potentially be supported by the removal of remaining recyclables from the residual waste stream through mixed waste sorting. Combining these processes with the decarbonisation of consumption through increased recycling and waste prevention can provide the waste sector with the means to support other sectors achieve Net Zero.

The barriers to deploying CCUS projects in the UK are said to primarily be commercial, rather than technical, and government support is likely to be needed to further the development of the technology in the EfW sector.

Andrew Coulthurst, Senior Consultant at Eunomia, said: “The deployment of CCUS has the potential to form a key part of the waste sector’s strategy to reach net zero by 2050, and our research demonstrates there is a credible development pathway for CCUS in the EfW sector.

“Many EfW facilities in the UK are ideally located within close proximity of potential CCUS Clusters or port hubs that should make the deployment of CCUS on EfW at least as cost-effective as other sectors, which should provide confidence to industry and government that CCUS has a viable role to play in decarbonising the sector over the coming decades.

“To support the decarbonisation of the waste sector, the government must also deliver on its commitments to increase recycling in order to reduce the amount of recyclable material, particularly fossil-based plastic, that reaches EfW facilities by introducing target-based EPR, a wide-ranging DRS and improved mixed waste sorting.”

Dr Tim Rotheray, Viridor’s Director of ESG and external affairs, said: “The UK has a major opportunity to become a world leader in CCUS but to date sources of stable, cost-effective carbon capture technology have been a key barrier. This latest research has revealed the until now unseen scale of opportunity that the UK;s waste sector could bring to CCUS.

“The number of sites processing non-recyclable waste, and the opportunity to capture 5 million tonnes of CO2 and potentially offer the lowest cost capture in the industrial sector, presents real hope for an accelerated rollout of CCUS across the economy, a technology the UK is dependent on to meet its Net Zero commitments.”

Olivia Powis, Head of UK office of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA), said: “CCUS has a significant role to play in decarbonising the UK’s industry on the road to Net Zero by 2050 by removing CO2 on an industrial scale from hard-to-decarbonise sectors. We welcome Eunomia’s report outlining a clear pathway for CCUS deployment in the EfW sector.

“EfW facilities are very well suited to CCUS given the long-term nature of the infrastructure and proximity to CCUS clusters, and what the sector now needs is clear government policy incentives to support investment in this technology. The technology is ready, but investors need confidence over the direction of travel for CCUS. The CCUS industry stands ready to support the waste sector in its decarbonisation efforts and pursuit of Net Zero.”

You can view the full report on the Eunomia website.