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French waste group Veolia hungry for lost UK energy

French waste company Veolia's incineration plant in south London handles some 1,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste per day
French waste company Veolia's incineration plant in south London handles some 1,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste per day - Copyright AFP Daniel LEAL
French waste company Veolia's incineration plant in south London handles some 1,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste per day - Copyright AFP Daniel LEAL
Véronique DUPONT

A giant crane-operated claw plunges into a mountain of rubbish before dumping its load into a huge furnace, where the waste is engulfed in flames to generate electricity.

French waste company Veolia’s incineration plant in south London handles some 1,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste per day, heating water to produce steam that creates power and heats thousands of nearby homes.

Incineration is one part of Veolia’s strategy to transform its operations — and those of client companies — to preserve valuable energy supplies and boost efficiency.

Veolia, one of Europe’s main players in waste treatment, views recycling lost energy as a key growth engine that will help it reach net-zero targets — and make money.

The global energy recovery market will be worth 500 billion euros ($543 billion) per year by 2030, according to the group.

– ‘Untapped resource’ –

“It’s a really untapped resource and reservoir, which corresponds in Europe alone to 400 gigawatts… it’s the equivalent of energy demand of a country like Italy,” Veolia chief executive Estelle Brachlianoff told journalists on a visit to the London facility.

“Wasted heat, waste water (and) non-recyclable waste can produce energy and bio energy.”

Such local schemes include the conversion of waste heat, wastewater and non-recyclable waste into energy and bioenergy.

The company wants to do even more to save wasted energy, but environmentalists say burning trash produces greenhouse gas emissions.

Nina Schrank, plastics team leader for Greenpeace UK, is scathing about the methods used to capture such lost energy.

“In waste management terms, incineration represents a triple failure — a failure to reduce, a failure to reuse and a failure to recycle,” she said. 

“Much of the material being burned is plastic, and so is, in fact, fossil fuel that has been mixed with various other chemicals.”

The French company operates 10 similar facilities in Britain, processing around 2.3 million tonnes of non-recyclable waste in order to generate electricity for more than 400,000 homes.

– ‘World first’ –

Brachlianoff also hailed a pilot project for electric refuse trucks to feed the operator of Britain’s electricity grid.

She told AFP at the company’s waste treatment works on the same London site that the lorry scheme was a “first of its kind” in the world.

Outside, a 10-strong fleet of the electric trucks was parked before emptying litter for local authorities in London.

“We call it ‘vehicle to grid’ when you come back to the depot (and) the battery still has some energy into it, some power to it.

“And then it gives back some power to the grid, and specifically when the grid needs it the most — which is… in the evening.”

Energy prices remain elevated after rocketing following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago, fuelling high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis.

“What Veolia does in the energy sector is producing and distributing… energy which helps reduce carbon footprints,” added Brachlianoff.

At the London site, known as Landmann Way, the fleet of electric rubbish-collecting lorries form part of that global strategy after they drop off their loads at the incineration plant. 

Veolia hopes the “vehicle to grid” initiative can be extended across the company’s UK fleet of 1,800 vehicles, which it plans to fully electrify by 2040.

AFP
Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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