Despite AWT facilities becoming more common in Australia, there is still a high degree of scepticism about the claims made by many technology providers about the performance of AWT facilities generally. The technical and commercial failure of technically complex plants such as the SWERF gasification plant in Wollongong (see section 4.6.2) has created a lack of trust in AWT facilities. Even plants using relatively mature technologies such as the Bedminster process have had technical issues.
Local councils are conservative by nature and therefore wary of new technologies of any type. They are inclined to select technologies that are either well proven either in Australia or overseas. As a result, there is a general lack of awareness in Australia of more than the handful of technologies that are currently used in this country. There are opportunities for European technology providers with a strong track record of many years of successful operations in Germany or other countries with a large number of operating facilities to enter the Australian market, especially if they partner with local waste companies already involved in landfilling or waste collection.
Due to issues faced by plant operators who are trying to market mixed waste compost, the likely future trend is towards energy production, rather than composting technologies. There are, therefore, likely to be more anaerobic digestion plants built to serve the major cities. In regional centres, it is more likely that food and garden waste composting plants will be adopted, because of their simplicity, lower costs and reliable local markets for high grade agricultural compost.
Because commitment to AWT is largely driven by the municipal sector, it has been difficult to direct commercial waste to AWT facilities without legal imperative. One possible solution is for operators of municipal waste facilities to ‘top up’ their plant throughputs with commercial waste.
Some facility agreements with councils already allow this, with Councils receiving royalties or a share of the profit associated with commercial customers using their facilities. Businesses with corporate sustainability objectives are interested in increasing waste diversion from landfill, and maximising their recycling achievements, so there are a number of potential customers in the market.
In Europe, a large number of the waste processing plants produce refuse derived fuels (RDF) for energy production. None of the current AWT plants in Australia do this. There are commercial reasons such as lack of markets for the material and lack of purpose-built facilities for these fuels.
As explained in section 4.6.1 there is considerable reluctance to build and operate any type of thermal waste treatment plant in Australia with concerns that dioxins and other pollutants could increase health risks to surrounding populations. Siting of such a facility would be extremely problematic. As a result it seems more likely that small-scale co-firing in cement kilns and power stations will be the main application for RDF from waste facilities in the future.
Details of the numerous groups of technologies for the treatment of mixed municipal and or commercial wastes are provided below.