x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai in talks to extract green fuel from waste

An international energy consortium is in talks with Dubai to build a plant that will turn waste into transport fuel, according to the consortium's leaders.

CAPE TOWN // A South African, Russian and US clean energy consortium is in talks with Dubai to build a plant that will turn municipal waste into transport fuel, according to the consortium's leaders. Representatives of the Earth Power Group, a joint venture between South Africa's Centre of Material and Process Synthesis (COMPS), the Russian Academy of Sciences and Alye International, a US green-energy company, say talks are in their final stages and the project is expected to be operational within two years. "We consider what we are doing [as] recycling at the molecular level," said Virgil Perryman, the group chief executive of Alye International. "The goal is to take waste and to turn it into something useful." Earth Power's method brings together several older technologies, including the Fischer-Tropsch process, a catalysed chemical reaction in which synthesis gas is converted into liquid hydrocarbons.

COMPS, a self-funded entity within the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Witwatersrand, has developed a cleaner, more flexible version of this technology with lower start-up costs aimed at helping deliver fuel and electricity to the developing world, according to Dr Brendon Hausberger, the centre's director. "We consider this bootstraps technology," Dr Hausberger said. "What we are looking at is a technology where you can put in US$100 million (Dh367.2m) and be up and running." Dubai's venture will begin with a single module worth between $25m and $30m and capable of accepting 50 tonnes of municipal waste a day, Mr Perryman said. Each tonne of waste can be converted into 2.7 barrels of synthetic fuel. "We want to increase that to 50 modules once the initial concept is well accepted," he said.

Earth Power's model uses several revenue streams, including fees normally paid to landfills for taking waste, recycling fees from the valuable material sorted from the waste, and sales of the electricity, synthetic fuel and other products created through the process. One of the byproducts Mr Perryman expects to be in demand in Dubai is a wood substitute that could be used in building. He said the synthetic fuels could initially be used to dilute the petroleum-based fuels used in municipal transport, reducing their sulphur content and lowering pollution in the city. Later, once cities such as Dubai have begun to produce enough waste-based fuel, they can switch their transport to synthetic fuels.

Dubai Municipality announced in the spring of last year that it was studying waste-to-energy programmes as a way of tackling its mounting rubbish disposal needs. Dubai's waste disposal more than tripled between 2000 and 2007, rising from 1 million tonnes to 3.5 million tonnes, while industrial and construction waste increased from 3 million tonnes to 10.5 million tonnes, according to Arabian Business. Mr Perryman said the Municipality was expected to provide the land and a supply of waste, while the project would be privately funded. The location of the project is still being decided. A spokesman for the Dubai Municipality last night declined to comment as negotiations were continuing. Although Earth Power has a local partner, Mr Perryman said he expected the project to be an onshore entity under new, looser foreign ownership laws now being discussed by the Government. Earth Power is also talking to Middle-eastern municipalities in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco about similar projects, as well as Spain and some parts of the US. khagey@thenational.ae