Digesting with a robust appetite

CEO of anaerobic digestion technology provider Anaergia says regions with reliance on fresh food have much to benefit from the waste treatment method.

anaergia andrew benedek
Dr. Andrew Benedek, CEO of Canada-based AD technology provider Anaergia.
Photo provided by CESG and Weber Shandwick.

Anaerobic digestion (AD) as a method to treat and derive energy from organic waste that will receive attention at the 2022 the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore (CESG) event later this month. Dr. Benedek will be a speaker at the CESG Resource Sustainability track at the 2022 Summit in Singapore.

The organizers of that event arranged an exclusive interview for Waste Today with Dr. Andrew Benedek, CEO of Canada-based AD technology provider Anaergia. In the conversation with Brian Taylor of Waste Today, Benedek provided insight into the role of AD technology in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other places where fresh food is consumed in greater amounts than highly processed or packaged food.

Waste Today (WT): How does Anergia judge the potential for growth in the anaerobic digestion (AD) sector in the ASEAN region?

Andrew Benedek (AB): ASEAN is home to over 650 million people and is witnessing unprecedented growth in population, especially in urban areas, leading to the generation of lot of waste. Unlike other continents, ASEAN municipal solid waste (MSW) is highly organic in composition with very low calorific value which makes it suitable feedstock for anaerobic digestion to produce carbon negative fuel (BioCNG) or renewable power.

ASEAN also produces millions of tons of agricultural waste like manure and straw—all of which would otherwise create greenhouse gas emissions—and are very well suited for AD.

WT: To what extent does Anaergia see AD treatment as an especially good fit with the makeup of discarded food scraps and organics in Singapore and the ASEAN region?

AB: In our view AD is a very sustainable and competitive way of managing organic waste in the ASEAN region. Singapore is already leading the way by building one of the world’s largest integrated waste management facilities in Tuas, which will process around 400 tons per day of food waste along with other household waste.

ASEAN waste is high in organic composition and low in calorific value making it highly suitable for conversion via AD to renewable gas or power. Renewable gas can help decarbonize cities that want to achieve net zero emissions targets. For Singapore and other countries, AD can help divert organic waste from landfills.

WT: What are the benefits the increased adoption of AD technology can bring to citizens and to waste planners in this region?

AB: The biggest benefit—to not only Southeast Asia, but the entire world—is the reduction of methane emitted from waste to address climate change. This is the greatest sustainability issue of our era and will be the focus of my remarks at the Resource Sustainability track at the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore.

We know that methane is 37 percent of the climate change problem. It’s potency in the short term is, likely, already creating climate change feedback that is amplifying the effects of global warming. When you can both reduce methane emissions from waste and create a renewable fuel via AD, you slow climate change in two ways—the methane reduction and the displacement of fossil fuels.

Additionally, Southeast Asia is made up of many densely populated cities that have little space for food, agricultural and industrial waste management. Anaerobic digestion reduces the amount of waste that needs to be landfilled, a key benefit for space-constrained areas. It also is a green process with no harmful gas emissions, and it generates fertilizer, which can improve sustainable agriculture in the region.

WT: How would you assess the investment and regulatory climates in this region in terms of being welcome to additional AD capacity?

AB: ASEAN [countries] in general do not have specific regulations or incentives for bioenergy except the feed-in tariffs in some countries, and those tariffs are on the lower side compared to Europe, for example.

Besides Singapore, the gate fees in other countries are quite low, making projects less bankable.

We believe incentives and regulations for waste management in general, and incentives for producing green gas (BioCNG/RNG) from organic waste are good ways to catalyze change in this industry, which will in turn create jobs and greener economies.

WT: Are there any Anaergia installations underway or planned in this region that you can talk about?

AB: Yes. Asia is one of our growth engines. Our Asian headquarters is in Singapore, where we have an experienced local team for offering end-to-end solutions.

We have built and continue to operate one of the first co-digestion facilities in Southeast Asia here in Singapore called the Ulu Pandan Co-digestion Facility. This project processes wastewater sludge from the Public Utilities Board and food waste from Singapore’s National Environment Agency into biogas. It’s a landmark facility where Anaergia’s technologies leverage synergies between wastewater and waste sector.

We have also designed and built one of Japan’s largest biogas plants in Yabu, which processes various agri-food waste. We are in midst of completing work in Taoyuan, Taiwan, on one of that country’s largest food waste treatment and AD facilities.

Finally, we have also built a chicken manure AD-to-renewable energy and fertilizer plant for a chicken farm in Singapore.

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