Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Incinerator for Municipal Solid Waste in Kuala Lumpur

Recently, Minister of Housing and Local Government (MHLG), Dato’ Wira Chor Chee Heung, had made an official announcement that the federal government, through the National Solid Waste Management Department is embarking on a determined path to introduce the first ever mass-scale incinerator facility with capacity of 800-1000 ton of municipal solid waste (MSW) per day in Kuala Lumpur. The minister had called for an “international tender” for the project in June/July this year, citing a “critically needed” for such a waste disposal facility in KL. A three-week lab on the best incinerator was carried out from 26 March, gathering a group of experts from academic institutions, NGOs, etc to scrutinize on the best technology, financial model, location and mitigation measures. According to most media sources, the capital expenditure of the incinerator ranges from RM500 million to RM800 million and expected to be completed in 2015.

Presently, the generation of MSW in KL is about 3000 ton/day. About 2000 ton/day of MSW arise in KL is compacted at Taman Beringin Transfer Station (located at Jinjang) before disposed at Bukit Tagar Sanitary Landfill (BTSL) which located at Batang Berjuntai, 70km away from KL city centre. BTSL is the largest sanitary landfill in Malaysia, with a built-up area of 1700 acres, operating capacity of 2000 ton/day and lifespan of 40 years. It was commenced in 2005 with capital cost of about RM200 million and the tipping fees range from RM28 to RM49 per ton. BTSL is a certified CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) project by UNFCCC and it is claimed that generation capacity of 6 Megawatt of electricity is possible with of 3 Megawatt supplied to TNB.

Incineration or “mass burning” is the common MSW disposal method globally after landfill. It is one of the most expensive waste treatment facilities especially when equipped with energy recovery and advanced emission control technology. Besides incineration, other thermal treatment technology such as pyrolysis and gasification are typically operated in small scale plants. Incineration can reduce the mass of MSW to less than 10% and hence increase the lifespan of landfills. Compared to landfill, the advantages of incinerator (with energy recovery) are typically the environmental benefits such as lower carbon emission, avoidance of land contamination, higher energy recovery per ton, outputs of ashes in inert form, (chemically stable without odor) and requires a minimum area of land. Economically, the benefits are the location which can be near to city and land value with less depreciation unlike landfill. For a sanitary landfill, post-closure of at least 30 years is required after the operational phases. After that, the land can only be used as low value purposes such as recreational area or golf course as the soil structure is not suitable for building construction, especially high rise. 

However, the drawbacks of the financial economic of incinerator is much higher that its benefits. The capital and operational cost of incinerator is much higher than a sanitary landfill. The CapEx of an incinerator with same capacity with a sanitary landfill is at least 3 times more expensive while the OpEx is 10 times higher. For a case study, Pollution Engineering Sdn Bhd (PESB) had fabricated a 12 ton/day incinerator with capital expenditure (capex) of RM 9-10 million and operated for 2 years in Kuantan Municipal Council for R&D purpose in year 2004. It was found that it comsumed about 120 Litres (L) of diesel to incinerate 1 ton of MSW from Kuantan. Hence, the operational expenditure (opex) is easily more than RM 300/ton as the fuel (diesel) alone cost more than RM 200/ton with the current market price of diesel of RM 1.80/L.

5 units of small-scale incinerators of rotary kiln type were in erected in 5 tourism spots: Pulau Langkawi (100 ton/day), Pulau Labuan (60 ton/day), Cameron Highlands (40 ton/day), Pulau Pangkor (20 ton/day) and Pulau Tioman (10 ton/day). The incinerators use autogenous combustion technology (ACT), which involves the usage of a rotary kiln and an air-injection system to ensure continuous combustion. Recyclables will be removed from the waste prior to incineration. Emissions resulting from the combustion process will be treated by a combination of pollution control systems to remove dust particulates, acid gases, nitrogen oxides, heavy metals and dioxin. Solid waste leachate and wastewater from the plant and truck washings will be directed to a wastewater treatment plant prior to discharge. An end-of-pipe continuous emissions monitoring system will be installed to monitor compliance to DOE requirements.

Figure 1.0: Incinerator of 12 ton/day for Kuantan Municipal Council (Pollution Engineering Sdn Bhd, 2010)

These incinerators are designed and constructed by XCN Technology Sdn Bhd. The primary purpose of the introduction of incinerators at tourism spots is to divert waste from the landfill as the scarcity of land in island and highland area. However, all these incinerators are still in testing and commissioning phase by MHLG until today. The incinerator in Pulau Pangkor had begun operation on 19th March 2012. According to the plant manager (whom I had managed to interview), the CapEx of the plant is RM24million and the OpEx is about RM220/ton with manpower of 20 personnel. The design capacity is 20 ton/day but the daily waste generation at the island is only 6-7 ton/day. So the operation only run for 3-4 days a week and the rest of days are sorting and recovering of recyclable materials. All the incinerators have no energy recovery except in Pulau Langkawi, capable of generating 1MW of electricity. The bottom/fly ashes are landfilled. From my observation at the incinerators at Pulau Pangkor and Cameron Highland, open dumps are located beside the incinerators. JPSPN (National Solid Waste Management Department) under MHLG, rehabilitates and upgrades the open dumps into sanitary landfills.

 Figure 2.0: Incinerator of 40 ton/day at Cameron Highland (March, 2012)
Figure 3.0: Open dumping beside incinerator at Cameron Highland (Blue Valley) 

 Figure 4.0: New sanitary landfill (upgraded) at another side near to the incinerator at Cameron Highland

According to Director-General of JPSPN, small incinerators had been built in Langkawi, Pangkor, Labuan, Tioman and Terengganu in the late 1990s. All had failed due to faulty design, poor maintenance, improper operation and high diesel usage. The new incinerators are tailor-made to suit local waste characteristics, such as high moisture content of 60% to 70%. In the past, waste incinerators failed as they were of European make and not suitable for our waste. The new incinerators will also have the cost-effective element inserted, including low operation cost. Pollutant such as dioxin is released if the burning temperature is low. If the burning capacity of the incinerator goes above 800°C, all dioxin will be burned off and destroyed.

The financing model for incineration is thus a very important aspect in the development of any high cost thermal treatment facility. Presently, all the OpEx of the five incinerators are borne by federal government. For the total capacity of 230 ton/day, the OpEx will be about RM18.5 million per annum. If the 1000 ton/day incinerator is included, the total cost will be RM80 million per annum which is sufficient to be the CapEx for two 300-400 ton/day composting plants. Incinerator is a proven technology and environmental beneficial, but definitely not cost-effective.  This is especially true for MSW in Malaysia with a high percentage of organic fraction i.e. high moisture content and low calorific value. Compared with sanitary landfill which OpEx is about RM20-30/ton, there is a shortfall of RM200/ton if incinerator is to be the alternative. The funding by federal government to bear the operational cost is not sustainable it will increase the operational expenditure of country’s budget. Unless the people is willing is to pay more for the disposal of waste (under assessment tax or direct billing). The willingness to pay (WTP) of residents for waste disposal has to be gauged and evaluated to enable to possibility of introduction of Pay-as-You-Throw (PAYT) charging system (by weight). One argument of the drawback of the system is low income group generate more food waste (by weight) and hence have to pay more. For example, the poor will purchase a coconut, watermelon, chicken, etc and the residues of these food wastes made up a huge amount of weight. One method to tackle this problem is by “Indifference Consumer Pay Principle”, a carrot and stick approach in which the consumers that practice segregation at source are not necessary to pay for the waste that is segregated. However, this system is complicated and requires substantial institutional arrangement for the implementation.

In the author’s opinion, the next most viable trajectory to head toward integrated MSW management in Malaysia is the mainstreaming of composting facility. By diverting the organic fraction of MSW for biological treatment, the rest of the waste (residual waste) has higher calorific value and the weight can be reduced by at least 40%. Hauling fee can be saved if the composting facility is located near to waste generation point or “on-site”. By diverting the organic fraction of MSW, we have double benefits of nutrient recovery (compost) and increased viability/efficiency of incineration, especially incinerator with energy recovery which surplus electricity generation can be sold to TNB with the Feed-in Tariff scheme by KeTTHA (Ministry of Water, Energy and Green Technology). Hence, MHLG should unlock the potential of biological treatment by promoting it with incentive and funding for capital cost while discourage landfill with taxes. MHLG has to acknowledge the imperative of composting as the key cornerstone toward integrated waste management model.  

Figure 5.0: Material flows from MSW toward integrated waste management model 

Prepared by:
Jaron Keng Zi Xiang
Malaysia Green and Blue Environment Protection Society