SDG 7 | Clean and affordable energy
Alicante’s Greene Waste to Energy manages to give a new life to urban waste that ends up in the landfill
In 2019, the latest data available from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the Spanish generated 483.7 kilograms of urban waste per inhabitant and that almost half of the garbage collected ended up in the landfill waiting to be decomposed by the passage of time or be buried in the land intended for it. But what if that waste still has value?
This is the commitment of four people from Elche that has been embodied in Greene Waste to Energy (Greene). “There is a quantity of material called the rejection fraction that ends up in a landfill,” explains Jesús Martínez, co-founder and CSO of the company. Some remains that convert urban remains that cannot be given a second life into energy.
The squaring of the circular economy that only has one ‘but’: “this waste has to have easily oxidizable carbon”, explains Martínez. An essential ingredient to be able to “transform it into a gas, into another product that is viable,” explains the Greene manager, or into hydrogen, “because there is technology to do it.”
This year, the company from Elche has joined the Renewable Hydrogen Strategy of the Valencian Community 2030 (EH2CV). After this accession, Greene has already started working on the development of a pilot plant that will initially process 100 kg/h of industrial and urban solid waste to obtain 6 kg/h of hydrogen, in total, 45 tons of annual production of renewable hydrogen. .
Greene is working on a pilot plant that will initially process 100 kg/h of industrial and urban solid waste to obtain 6 kg/h of hydrogen
A roadmap that will bring the first industrial plant in 2024 to increase processing capacity, although “we have the technology to produce this hydrogen, the regulations on how to pour this energy into the network are still not clear,” says Martínez. “In addition, production costs would also have to be adjusted,” he adds.
Despite the bureaucracy to move forward, “now you are no longer a strange being,” Martínez replies. “They don’t look at you funny anymore and they perfectly understand what we want to do,” he explains. An adventure that was born in 2003 and materialized in a trip to India. “We saw that gasification was used to heat houses, cook, and they did it with cow feces,” says Martínez.
The founders of Greene Waste to Energy. /
Upon returning from the trip, “we began to think about gasification and what use it had,” he highlights. While they tried to understand the benefits of this technique, they combined it with his work in the shoe industry. That’s where the lightbulb went off. “In this sector, a lot of waste is generated, especially when polyurethane is injected and then we saw that if this waste could be collected and a gas generated, it could be used as fuel to generate electricity. It was the germ of everything, ”recalls the Greene manager.
“We can profitably value any waste that has an organic matrix
co-founder of Greene Waste to Energy
Two decades later, “we are processing the first environmental authorizations and we hope to have the first facility in operation by the end of next year,” he reveals. However, their technology has not changed and they obtain a syngas or synthetic gas from urban waste, biomass or sewage sludge to “generate high value-added products,” says Martínez.
Gasification process. /
The technique of the company from Elche, protected by a world patent, allows the generation of methanol, renewable gas, biofuels, synthetic waxes or green hydrogen. “We can profitably value any waste that has an organic matrix.”
Before passing through the different pyrolysis and gasification reactors to convert this waste into energy, “we study in detail all the characteristics of the waste to find its best recovery.” Coal, garbage from households, plastics, industrial waste or tires arrive at these facilities. “A wheel is not the same as biomass, but the idea is that by applying heat it can be converted into a gas,” summarizes Martínez.
According to his calculations, for every kilo of waste that is processed, approximately 1 kilowatt of energy is generated and more than 1.5 of energy. This process also produces an inert ash that can be applied in various uses in civil works.
“When you get into the sector and start seeing everything that is thrown away, you throw your hands in your head,” warns Martínez. However, “with the 2030 Goals, everyone is now more aware and they don’t look at you strangely when you talk to them about circularity.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.