An apparently simple concept that is very complex to implement

The Australian Industrial Ecology Network (AIEN) is pleased to partner with The ASIA Miner to offer this new supplement highlighting innovations and case studies of successful industrial ecology endeavours and resource recovery undertaken in Australia. Coinciding with the AIEN’s Australian Waste to Energy Forum on February 22 and 23, it is timely that the focus for this first edition is energy from waste technologies.

THE term Energy-from-Waste (EfW) conjures up a very simple concept for non-practitioners in this field. Wherever a waste, residue or undervalued by-product of some agricultural, forestry or manufacturing process arises, including end-of-life urban waste streams, the concept of at least recovering and realising the embedded or inherent calorific value seems intuitively preferable to simply disposing (landfill/incinerating) or otherwise losing this energy in an energy hungry world. 

However, the devil is in the detail, and the detail includes really understanding what these ‘wastes’ are, and what they could/should be converted into in a sustainable and fully integrated circular economy.

Once these key foundation questions have been addressed, then, the focus productively turns to the logistics, systems, infrastructure and technologies needed to achieve the clearly defined outcome.

What are ‘wastes’?

One could dedicate the entire agenda of a two-day conference to this issue - as the Australian Waste to Energy Forum in Ballarat, on February 22 and 23 will do, at least in part.

But suffice to say that most of the time such ‘wastes’ arise as the by-product or secondary outcome of some primary activity:

  • Growing food/fibre;
  • Supplying the full range of goods and services to support our complex industries/economy;
  • Meeting the ‘supply’ from consumer ‘demand’; or
  • Just managing the post-consumer fate of all such materials in the interest of public health and environment protection.

In any event, such materials present as being of little or no readily realisable value to their current owner, but they could be to some subsequent specialist processor, if all the appropriate logistic and commercial networks were installed to achieve such an outcome.

What could/should they be converted into?

Again, the Australian Waste to Energy Forum will address this issue in some detail, but the short answer is to focus on the highest net resource value (HNRV) outcomes.  The rationale for this is simple:

To establish the systems, infrastructure and processing capabilities to convert wastes into valuable end products will inevitably involve allocating significant new capital, well in excess of the bare minimum to simply ‘dispose’ of the same materials, even through many jurisdictions imposed disposal taxes/levies in an attempt to encourage reprocessing rather than disposal. The funds to service these fresh capital allocations need to be recovered from the value of the reclaimed products, rather than the waste’s generators who already pay substantial waste fees and are looking for such fees to stop rising, or experience less CPI downward pressure to recompense the efforts they now make to support and encourage such specialist service providers.

Drivers for change

The Australian Waste to Energy Forum will address this issue in some detail, but ultimately the existing linear extraction-conversion-manufacture-consumption-discard use and application of both renewable and non-renewable resources is not only factually unsustainable, but the drivers of resource conservation, climate change/carbon management and global population growth supply the irrefutable evidence on a daily basis. 

Against these criteria, EfW is often envisaged and promoted as a ‘waste management’ option rather than as a systematic ‘resource recovery’ option.  In the ‘waste management’ mode, EfW usually results in:

    • Costs for waste generators going up to service the considerable new capital being committed for the new facilities;
    • A poor quality and subsidised energy product being sold to the community without them being consulted and/or fully realising what is being done in their name;

  • Resources squandered for only a fraction of their inherent value, just because the slightly more complex, but cheaper, systems and infrastructure required to fully realise the full resource value was not ‘waste industry’ core business and therefore was not designed and implemented; and
  • A failure to address the actual drivers for change … just substantiated on the flawed logic that avoiding landfill is sufficient justification for any other unsustainable practice.

At the Australian Waste to Energy Forum these issues will be teased out as a significant contribution to defining the sustainable platforms for resource and energy recovery for a sustainable future and will call out the promoters of solutions that do not meet the actual needs and aspirations of a fully informed community.

Australian Industrial Ecology Network

THE Australian Industrial Ecology Network (AIEN) is a vibrant network of like-minded individuals, companies and institutions with a common interest in sustainable development through the study and practice of industrial ecology.

The organisation advocates the principles and concepts of industrial ecology in policy formation and business practice. The AIEN actively engages with other organisations to facilitate improved performance and environmental benefits.

The AIEN offers a forum in which members can keep in touch, canvas issues of interest and connect with resources associated with the practice and study of industrial ecology.

For more information visit

Second AIEN forum in Ballarat

Building on the highly successful inaugural event in 2016, the Australian Industrial Ecology Network invites people interested in the concept of Waste to Energy to participate in the 2nd Australian Waste to Energy Forum on February 22 and 23 at the Mercure Ballarat Hotel and Convention Centre in Victoria.

This two-day event with a theme of ‘Waste to Energy – What it means in the Australian context’, will explore potential opportunities for the industry in Australia and what it might look like in the future.

Changes in government policy in recent years have created a renewed interest in energy from waste opportunities and Australia is now considered, internationally, to be a potential growth market.


Participants at the 2016 Australian Waste to Energy Forum in Ballarat, Victoria.

Due to Australia’s unique conditions it is widely accepted that the Waste to Energy market will be different here than in other countries.

This forum will consider what has worked around the world and what Australia can learn from those experiences: What are the barriers and how to overcome them? Who are the stakeholders, what are their roles and how will they influence the industry? How does the plan for future energy requirements influence the development of a waste to energy industry in Australia?

Keynote speaker is Eunomia Research & Consulting’s Dr Darren Perrin whose topic is ‘Why does Australia want incineration?’ Other speakers include World Bioenergy Association’s Andrew Lang, Melbourne Water’s Bill Pemberton, Lenihan Consulting’s Vanessa Lenihan, ResourceCo’s Ben Sawley, Weston Energy’s Chris McPherson, Starfish Initiatives’ Ian Gesch, HZI Australia’s Dr Marc Stammbach, Machinex Industries’ Jonathan Ménard, Alter NRG’s Ken Willis, RES Kaidi’s Eric Darmstaedter, Jackson Environment and Planning’s Dr Mark Jackson, MRA Consulting Group’s David Cocks, Veolia’s Tom Wetherill, Renewed Carbon’s Mark Glover and New Energy Corporation’s Miles Mason.

For more information visit

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