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Maire: waste to energy could replace Italy’s dependence on Russian gas

© Shutterstock / BelishA waste to energy plant.

Italian technology and engineering conglomerate Maire Tecnimont has announced plans for a circular economy model using rubbish and landfill gas. This could help alleviate Italy, and Europe’s, dependence on Russian natural gas.

Maire (MI:MT) says it can recover carbon and hydrogen from landfill waste to produce eco-friendly chemicals and fuels.

The company says the process could produce enough gas to provide 10% of Italy’s fuel needs, thereby reducing dependence on Russian natural gas.

To produce enough gas from landfill waste would take a five-year period and require investment in 10 plants capable of treating 600,000 tons year of waste each.

Maire claims backed up by new contract

Maire sees an opportunity to convert the 16 million tonnes of non-recyclable waste disposed of in Italy’s landfills annually to synthetic gas, which could enhance national energy security.

Its MyRechemical subsidiary has been awarded an engineering contract by waste management company Alia Servizi Ambientali. It will build a plant to process 256,000 tons per year of non-recyclable waste, with a goal of producing 125,000 tons per year of methanol and 1,400 tons/yr. of hydrogen.

MyRechemical’s conversion technology allows for the conversion of carbon and hydrogen contained in waste that cannot be mechanically recycled, or other types of unsortable dry waste (i.e. Refuse Derived Fuel – RDF) into a synthesis gas, which can be used to produce low-carbon methanol and hydrogen.

Generating energy from waste an idea whose time has come?

Maire’s NextChem unit has developed a model of “Circular District” which enables it to convert plastic waste and dry to produce chemicals and circular fuels from plastic waste and dry fractions of waste.

While there may be questions about resource use within the system, the NextChem process takes plastic and waste destined for landfills and uses it as feedstock for the production of hydrogen, methanol, and ethanol. In turn, these can be used as fuel or feedstock themselves.

“It will be possible to push the limits forward in recovering material from waste only by using more technology and innovation,” said Alberto Irace, chief executive of Alia, “This represents a model of strategic alliance for circularity where Maire Tecnimont, Zignago, Suez and Alia, all leading companies in technology and industry, are joining their forces to design and realize a sustainable future”.

Waste to energy projects have been studied and are being pursued in many countries as a means of reducing waste to landfill and supplementing dependence on domestic or imported fossil fuels. While the feedstock for the energy may be viewed as sustainable, in an ideal world, the elimination of waste should mean this form of power generation ought not to exist.

Excitement about the prospect of waste to energy being an alternate fuel source to fossil fuels should also be tempered by the time and investment needed to bring such projects online and to scale.

Reducing Italy and Europe’s dependence on Russian gas

The current cost of living crisis in Europe is, in large part, being driven by dependence on Russia for oil and gas.  Maire and NextChem chief executive Alessandro Bernini said of the company’s plans: “With 10 plants capable of treating 600,000 tons year each, in a five year period those plants could be able to produce domestically 10% of the gas required for the heating and electrical Italian grid as a whole.”

Italy, like much of Europe, is dependent on Russian gas, but has reduced its imports from levels of 38% of its fuel mix before the start of the Ukraine conflict, to 25% currently. A major supply agreement was signed with Algeria in April 2022.

There are ongoing discussions with Qatar, Angola and Mozambique about fuel supplies. These, alongside its gas storage efforts, are said to be giving Italy the confidence to manage the energy crisis through the winter of 2022-23. Italy plans to eliminate Russian gas imports by winter 2024-25 according to comments from Minister for the Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani.

A 60% reduction in Russian gas imports so far since June 2021 suggests a further 10% reduction to 70% may be manageable, based on analysis by the IMF. The IMF has called for a coordinated regional approach to energy independence, as the fragmented nature of the European market would have varying economic effects across the region. Every country presents different challenges with distribution and storage impacting the price of energy, and hence inflation.

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