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The CCS potential for Waste-to-Energy plants

There is increasing interest in the potential for capturing CO2 from waste-to-energy (WtE) plants in Europe, and safely storing it. But how many of these plants are there in Europe, how much CO2 do they emit and how much could be captured?

CEWEP, the Confederation of European Waste to Energy Plants, holds an overview of the WtE plants in Europe, which we reproduced on the map below.

Waste-to-Energy plants in Europe in 2018, based on data from CEWEP. Bubble size represents the plant capacity

In 2018 there were 492 WtE plants in Europe, with a total capacity of 96 million tonnes of waste per year. Waste tends to emit ca. 1 tonne of CO2 for each tonne of waste incinerated (figure to the right), so we estimate the yearly CO2 emissions from WtE plants in Europe to 96 million tonnes CO2.

Correlation between waste capacity and CO2 emissions for 252 WtE plants in Europe (source: Endrava, based on data from CEWEP and CaptureMap)

WtE plants are particularly interesting seen from a city perspective. Our calculations show that at least half of the European WtE plants are located within less than 25km from a large city (min 100 000 inhabitants). More and more cities set ambitious climate goals, and WtE plants come in the way of reaching near-zero emissions for cities. One example is the city of Oslo, with a goal of 95% emissions reduction by 2030, and with two incineration plants that are responsible for approximately 20% of Oslo’s GHG emissions. It is no surprise that Oslo is one of the most ambitious cities in the world when it comes to GHG emission reductions, and at the same time on the forefront of implementing CCS on waste-to-energy plants. Carbon capture on WtE plants offers a solution to drastically reduce cities emissions while solving issues related to non-recyclable waste.

But what is the potential for CCS on WtE plants in Europe? Our data from CaptureMap shows that about half of all the plants, the largest ones, are responsible for ca. 80% of the CO2 emissions. That would be a good place to start if one wants to efficiently reduce these emissions. On average, these large plants emit 285 000 tonnes of CO2 per plant per year, slightly less than the emissions at the plant in Oslo, but still very suitable for carbon capture.

WtE plants in CaptureMap, the size of the bubbles represent CO2 emissions

A side benefit with WtE plants is that about half of their emissions are biogenic CO2, meaning CO2 from the combustion of biomass, which is climate neutral. By capturing and safely storing this CO2, cities could achieve carbon-negative emissions, which will be needed for the world to reach our GHG reduction goals on the longer run. For the cities themselves, this could be a perfect opportunity to compensate for other emission sectors which will be more difficult to abate.

Share of biogenic CO2 from 85 WtE plants in Europe (in green), with on average 56% CO2 from biomass.

Testing at the capture pilot project at Fortum Oslo Varme has shown that at least 90% of the CO2 emissions can be captured with existing technology. Applying the technology on all of Europe’s largest WtE plants, one could capture more than 70 million tonnes CO2 per year, of which more than half would bio-CCS with negative emissions. Applying it on all of Europe’s WtE plants would increase the total capture to more than 80 million tonnes CO2 per year.