Waste-to-Energy Development in the United Arab Emirates
The per capita waste generation and energy consumption rates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are among the highest worldwide.
by Mohamed Abdallah and Abdulrahman Abdeljaber
The per capita waste generation and energy consumption rates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are among the highest worldwide. In preparation for the post-oil era, the UAE has stepped up efforts to shift its energy focus to renewable sources. The adoption of waste-to-energy (WTE) provides the UAE with an opportunity to valorize the ever-increasing waste produced, diversify its energy mix, attract green investments, and mitigate climate change. At present, the UAE plans to build multiple WTE plants to expand its global renewable portfolio to more than 100 GW by 2030. In this article, we shed light on the country profile, waste management sector, and current and planned WTE development.
The UAE is a federation of seven emirates, including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah, located on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. In 2021, the UAE had a population of approximately 10 million, with a gross domestic product of 40,851 USD per capita. The country is among the top 10 oil producers worldwide, with a daily average of 3.2 million oil barrels, ranking 11th among the largest energy consumers, with 12.5 MWh consumed per capita annually, 99% of which is provided through the combustion of fossil fuels. This has placed the UAE fourth in the per capita carbon footprint at approximately 19.4 tons of carbon emissions released annually, which is approximately 40 times the global average carbon footprint. Consequently, the UAE has planned the "Net Zero 2050” strategic initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power generation by 70% before 2050. However, the UAE’s vision is rather challenging, considering the unprecedented population and economic growth that requires doubling the current power generation capacity to meet the projected energy demand in 2050.
As a major contributor to the UAE’s carbon footprint, the waste sector has had its share of plans and reforms to maximize diversion from landfills and ensure the safe disposal of untreated waste streams. The growing waste generation, along with escalating energy demand, has promoted a shift toward WTE systems for more sustainable and cost-effective waste management. WTE can effectively improve the environmental performance of the country, diversify the energy mix, and achieve the net-zero target. The UAE’s waste profile appears to be well suited for WTE treatment; the high food waste fraction can allow for energy recovery via biochemical conversion, whereas the high paper and plastic fractions can potentially generate high amounts of energy if incinerated. The UAE aims to develop a regional renewable energy portfolio by establishing several WTE projects that can provide material and energy recovery solutions. There are currently multiple WTE projects in operation, under construction, or in the pipeline across the country.
With a current population of 3.4 million, Dubai has emerged as the leading economic hub in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The daily waste generation rate has reached 2.91 kg per capita, translating to an annual total waste of 3.4 million tons. In 2021, Dubai constructed its first full-scale anaerobic digestion plant located in one of the largest dairy farms in the Middle East. This biogas plant converts 200 tons of various waste types, particularly sludge, cow manure, and food waste, to generate 1.3 MWh of green electrical energy per day. Other daily operations include producing 10 tons of highly concentrated organic fertilizer and 150 m3of water, along with protecting groundwater by achieving a 90% reduction in ammonia migration.
As part of a 150 billion USD, 10-year strategic plan for waste management, Dubai Municipality initiated the construction of the Dubai Waste Management Center (DWMC) in 2021. Once fully operational, the plant will process over 1.9 million tons of waste per year, converting 45% of the waste into renewable energy to feed the local electricity grid with 215 MWh of clean energy, powering roughly 135,000 households. The facility will contribute to meeting the city’s strategic objectives of diverting waste and reducing landfills by 75% by 2030. Dubai Municipality announced that the center will commence its initial operation at 40% through two of its five treatment lines by early 2023, and is scheduled to be fully operational by 2024.
Sharjah is the third most populous emirate in the UAE, after Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Around 2.3 million tons of waste are collected annually from one million households; 76% of this waste is diverted from landfills to material recovery facilities. Sharjah has begun the development of multiple WTE facilities aimed at the transition toward renewable energy sources.
The Emirates WTE company, a joint venture between BEEAH, a semi-government holding company handling all waste management operations in Sharjah, and Masdar, one of the leading global renewable energy companies, announced the launch of the Sharjah WTE plant, the first commercial-scale plant of its kind in the MENA region. The WTE plant will divert up to 300,000 tons of non-recyclable waste from landfills per year, making it the Middle East’s first zero-waste city and advancing the UAE’s 2050 vision to reach a 100% diversion rate. The plant will generate 30 MW of low-carbon electricity to power 28,000 households in Sharjah, while bottom ash is collected to recover metals and be utilized in construction and roadwork applications. This incineration plant will displace nearly 450,000 tons of CO2-equivalent emissions and preserve the equivalent of 45 million m3 of natural gas.
In addition, BEEAH, in partnership with Chinook Sciences, plans to build the first waste-to-hydrogen facility in the region. Using RODECS® technology, this facility will handle non-recyclable plastics to generate green hydrogen. The hydrogen produced will be utilized to power the future fleet of waste collection vehicles. Such cutting-edge plants exemplify the financial benefits of sustainable energy generation and provide a low-carbon development pathway.
Abu Dhabi, the capitalof the UAE, has the largest oil and gas reserves in the country. Having planned to supply 7% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, Abu Dhabi aims to supply 25% by 2030, and 50% by 2050. In line with the UAE 2050 vision, the Abu Dhabi Waste Management Center (Tadweer) plans to develop one of the largest WTE facilities in the region. The greenfield WTE power project is expected to divert 75% of waste from landfills with a processing capacity of 900,000 tons of waste per year to generate sufficient electricity to power almost 52,500 households. The plant will use advanced moving grate incinerators to convert municipal waste into electricity through high-efficiency steam turbine generators, and is designed to reduce carbon emissions by up to 1.5 million tons per year.
Last updated: January 2023
published: , 1|2023
Keywords: Mixed Waste, United Arab Emirates
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