The United Arab Emirates has given the green light to develop fuel burners that can convert non-recyclable waste into electricity as waste accumulates in the desert.
The United Arab Emirates, one of the top ten oil exporters in the world, has launched the first “waste-energy” project in the Gulf, which will address the chronic waste problem. Depends on gas for the operation of its power plants.
Four burners are to be built, including one that will cost more than 1 1 billion, in a country where household waste generation and per capita electricity consumption are the highest.
Voluntary charities warn against the polluting effects caused by these factories. But for Nauf al-Waseer, an engineer at Pia, fuel burners make it possible to extract value from waste.
“Not everyone knows that waste has value. In Pia, it’s our leadmotif,” Ms Al-Waseer explains.
Behind her, workers are busy closing the Sharjah plant in a timely manner, which should be operational by the end of the year. With a capacity to absorb 300,000 tons of waste per year, it will provide electricity to about 28,000 households.
In neighboring Dubai, with its energetic skyscrapers and shopping malls, a large factory is planned for 2024, totaling more than a billion euros, says partner Hitachi Josen Innova.
Of the world’s largest, it is expected to absorb 1.9 million tons per year, or 45% of the household waste currently produced in the emirate.
– Excessive consumption –
At Emirates, “we eat a lot and throw a lot,” explains Riyad Pestani, founder of ECOsquare in Dubai, which provides waste management solutions.
There are six major landfills in Dubai alone. They currently have an area of 1.6 million square meters, which will reach 5.8 million m2 by 2041, if no other solutions are found, according to the municipality.
Garbage filling costs are “almost non-existent, so it is very cheap and easy to dispose of all kinds of items in the desert,” Emma Barber, director of a clothing and apparel company called Decret, told AFP. Parts bottles from recycled plastic.
As part of a campaign to diversify the economy and energy resources launched by Emirates, waste conversion is also part of the Arab world’s first nuclear power plant.
According to a 2019 government report, the country is 90% dependent on natural gas for power generation.
According to the International Energy Agency, the population has increased fivefold since the country became a true regional hub for trade in 1990, while its electricity consumption has increased by about 750% in 30 years.
The country now produces about 1.8 kg of waste per person per day.
– “Easy” –
Janek Vaughn, a volunteer with Zero Waste Europe, explains that burning is “easier” than other solutions, specifically calling for a ban on burners and their gradual closure from 2040.
But according to him, “the best thing for the climate and the environment is recovery” and composting, “it’s not really topical because (…) it’s easier to simply burn than to disassemble and sort. And recycle”.
Activist warns against the “lock-in effect”, citing the need to permanently provide fuel to make investments in these more expensive installations profitable.
He explains that combustion is “very efficient” when used at the same time to produce heat, as is the case in the Nordic countries.
But if the goal is to generate electricity, the unfavorable carbon footprint is burned, compared to fossil fuels, Janek Waugh underlines.
In early October, Emirates announced that it wanted to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Rami Shar, co-founder of Washmen, a home laundry service in Dubai, said the electricity generated by combustion is “not necessarily green energy”, which allows its customers to collect recyclable waste with their clothes.
It is “a solution that makes it possible to extract more oil, but it does not solve the overall problem”.