A pioneer in environmental issues

At Westenergy, waste quality is monitored by comprehensive spot checks and the emission levels from the incineration process are measured accurately. As the emissions are directly influenced by what goes onto the grate, the monitoring system also tells us a lot about our fuel. We always want our operations to be in line with the decisions and goals that have been made. Our main goal is to fulfil the conditions laid out in our environmental permit.

Waste Quality Inspector Laura Valtari and Environmental Manager Substitute Juha Ripatti know very well what kind of waste the Western Finland municipalities are sending for energy production. Laura makes spot checks on waste deliveries to Westenergy to see if there are any non-combustible materials or something that could damage the incineration plant’s machinery. The goal is to check 100 deliveries per year.

-When I check a load, first I visually check what the load looks like. Sometimes I can see directly that the quality of the waste is good. In such cases, I can then go through a quarter of the waste load with a pitchfork, instead of checking half the load. Then I sort the waste for weighing. Lifting waste is quite heavy physical work. After checking, I make the reports and calculations with pictures of the loads attached. We follow the data monthly and annually, says Laura.

On a Finnish scale, Westenergy’s waste quality control methods are almost at a scientific level. Valuable information is obtained from inspections and this information can be used to improve the quality of deliveries. Since waste is Westenergy’s fuel, the quality of the deliveries will affect the combustion emissions. Better waste quality produces lower emission levels with smaller quantities of purification chemicals.

Juha’s task is to ensure that the plant’s operations follow environmental legislation and the company’s own environmental objectives. He monitors the operations and measurements included in the plant’s environmental system and ensures that the plant operates in accordance with environmental permits. Juha also provides information on new laws and regulations throughout the organisation.

Declining waste quality

Raw combustion gases from the boiler provide a lot of important information on the quality of the waste directly affecting the plant’s operation. Whenever Laura and Juha detect high emission levels before the flue gas cleaning system, for example, or find objects that do not belong to the waste, they point out the issue to the waste suppliers. Westenergy also works closely with authorities to improve waste quality. In 2017, eight deliveries were returned to suppliers which covered a significant part of the interference reports issued to the authorities.

– There was a lot of low-quality waste last year, especially in loads that came from outside our actual operating area. Although ordinary households seem to still have a reasonably good sort of waste, the worsening of the waste quality and the subsequent pressure on the rise of emission levels is unfortunately a clear trend, even though our emission levels are still clearly below the limit values, Juha explains.

Daily environmental work

Westenergy keeps emission levels low by thoroughly cleaning its flue gases, so much so that the plant can be proud of its 99% emission-free power.

– In 2017, the introduction of a new emission calculation system was begun. These systems accurately calculate the types of flue gases that will come out of the stack and ensure that the environmental permit requirements are followed. From raw flue gases we measure hydrochloric acid and sulphur oxide, for example, which cause emissions. When the concentrations are known, we can supply just the right amount of purification chemicals. In this way, our systems can abate these impurities extremely efficiently. On the other hand, the more impurities there are, the more they strain our plant, says Juha and continues:

-It’s important to take hazardous materials away from the waste. This is best achieved by people sorting their waste efficiently before it reaches the waste incineration plant, but our cleaning system also prevents it from ending up in the nature. Our managing director has rightly said that we are the “kidney of the environment”. When the bottom slag from the incineration is properly processed at our cooperation partner’s (Suomen Erityisjäte Oy) facility, it can be reused for earthworks; e.g. when building roads for light traffic. The metals in the slag can also be recycled, as well as those already separated at the plant. In this way, the waste turns into new raw materials.

Westenergy’s operations serve the environment in many ways. The plant reduces the need for landfill space by utilising waste, which in turn reduces methane emissions. With district heating and electricity production, the plant also limits the need for coal and oil in energy production and thus reduces carbon dioxide emissions.

Westenergy is the only waste incineration plant in Finland where waste quality control verges on science.

Permissions and regulations

In 2017, Westenergy was granted a new environmental permit for the construction of a flue gas scrubber. The new permit also grants a total of 200,000 tonnes of incineration capacity every year. However, Westenergy considered that the new permit did not totally correspond to EU-level regulations for water management and decided to appeal the decision on the authorisation. The appeals process was initiated in Summer 2017.

Thanks to the flue gas scrubber project, Westenergy can respond to the new stringent emission limits in the future EU BREF document, which determines the best available (and thus required) waste incineration technology. During 2017, several political and legislative changes affecting Westenergy’s future were also under work domestically:

– The so-called MARA Regulation came into force on 1 January 2018. As a result, the utilisation of certain waste in civil engineering will no longer require a heavy environmental permit process, which in the future may considerably ease the utilisation of the bottom slag from waste incineration. Likewise, in chemical legislation, requirements have become more stringent because of the REACH Regulation, for example. In the near future, we will also be affected by the merging of the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres), and the merging of regional government agencies (as part of regional reform), says Juha.