• Tue
  • Sep 16, 2014
  • Updated: 12:31pm
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 1:19am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 1:19am

Elvis Au yet to convince on case for an incinerator in Hong Kong


Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.

The assistant director of the Environmental Protection Department, Elvis Au, has responded to criticisms of the proposed Shek Kwu Chau incinerator in a letter in yesterday's South China Morning Post.

Lai See, along with others, has long argued that there are better, cheaper and more appropriate technologies for dealing with Hong Kong's municipal solid waste (MSW). It is no doubt true that modern incinerators have substantially reduced emission levels. But this is not to say, as Au claims, that they do not pose a risk to public health.

Indeed there have been numerous papers written on incinerators and their impact on public health. There is still significant concern over this issue. In Europe, where there are hundreds of incinerators, several doctors' associations (which included environmental chemists and toxicologists) in 2008 wrote to the European Parliament with concerns over incinerator particle emissions and the absence of specific fine and ultra-fine particle size monitoring or in depth industry/government epidemiological studies of these minute and invisible incinerator particle size emissions. So the science on the impact of emissions on public health is not conclusive.

Au says it is incorrect to say that the technology is outdated and that most new thermal treatment plants are of the kind proposed for Hong Kong. The EPD's plans were first formulated around 2002, before being approved by the Advisory Council on the Environment in 2005.

Municipal authorities around the world have since looked at other technologies. A number of local authorities in the United States, China and Britain, among other countries, have built or are in the process of building plasma gasification plants. With virtually zero emissions, these plants can convert waste to energy in the form of syngas, which can be used to generate electricity or turned into biofuel. The process leaves an inert vitrified slag which can be used in construction.

The EPD's proposal for Hong Kong will result in about 1,000 tonnes a day of bottom ash which the EPD plans bury in the ash lagoon near Tuen Mun and, when that is full, presumably in landfills. Another aspect of this is that about half of the MSW that currently goes to landfill is food waste; Hong Kong's is particularly wet at 70-90 per cent water content.

In the World Bank's Decision Makers Guide to Municipal Solid Waste Incineration, it recommends that incineration is applicable only when the lower calorific value of the feedstock is on average over 7 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg) and should never fall below 6 MJ/kg. Hong Kong's food waste, according to the government, is around 2 MJ/kg, which will require additional fuel to enable it to burn.

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, the leading global professional body for people working in environmental business, advises that one of the best ways of dealing with wet food waste is to garburate it at source and put it down the drain. It could easily be handled by the Stonecutters Water Treatment plant, according to engineers.

The government has ignored this possibility. Legally enforceable sorting of waste would enable more efficient recycling. This would further reduce the volume of MSW that would need to be incinerated, and would possibly reduce the need for such a large incinerator.

Au has consistently claimed that plasma arc technology is untested. "It would take several years of operation before the effectiveness and efficacy of those plants can be evaluated and established," he says in his letter.

Not everyone shares Au's view. Lai See recalls attending the International Conference on Solid Waste 2013 - Innovation in Technology and Management in Hong Kong, at which Professor Umberto Arena, a waste energy specialist from Second University in Naples, said the plasma arc technology has been tried and tested over 10 years.

Despite the "years of review" by the department, we do not feel that Au has made a convincing case for the need to build a moving grate incinerator. There are other ways of dealing with our waste.

The plans have been a long time in the making and one gets the sense that one of the reasons we appear to be stuck with the incinerator proposal, is bureaucratic reluctance to rethink the project.

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com


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This article is now closed to comments

Well written article, thank you.
Totally agree with the final comments, I have felt for some time, that Elvis and his team continue to push the incinerator forward because they are afraid that the work they have completed to date may have been for nothing.
Wouldn't it be great if Elvis could have taken a step back a see the the big picture, glassification is clearly the only way to go, for anyone that has spent time researching gassification they will know, incineration is not the answer.
Locating this pollutant off the pristine parks of South Lantau seams an unusual decision, South Lantau has Hong Kong's longest white sand beaches and an extremely delicate eco system, it is just starting to recover from ban on fishing, the ecosystem is returning, bigger and bigger fish are being seen. 98 dolphins have died since 2003, how many more will die now due to this short sighted plan that has been approved by our representatives.
When are the Hong Kong people going to wake from their dreams of shopping arcades filled with consumer gadgets and take some solid steps to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. 1.8M plastic bottles a day, really....
Makes us want to leave HK, our kids live in the sea, it's their playground. I arrived in HKG in 1978 at the age of 4, we are now seriously considering leaving, feels like the straw that broke the camels back.
Air Products' Tees Valley Renewable Energy Facility
Our Tees Valley project is one of the most exciting and innovative energy projects in the world. Air Products is building two of the largest renewable energy facilities in the world using advanced plasma gasification energy-from-waste technology, with the potential to revolutionize the waste-to-energy sector. The Tees Valley plants will be the first of their kind in the UK, and the largest of their kind anywhere in the world.
Work on a 350,000 tonne capacity gasification plant in Tees Valley is nearing completion, with commercial operations due to begin by mid-2014.
Together the facilities will:
Generate approximately 100MW combined, enough to power over 100,000 homes
Help to generate green technology jobs and create up over 1500 construction jobs
Create 100 permanent jobs once operations begin
Divert over 700,000 tons a year of non-recyclable waste from landfill.
Benefit and stimulate the local economy.
Provide an environmentally responsible means of producing reliable baseload electricity
Help the country and region to achieve renewable energy targets and reduce landfill
34 days to go mate
Howard Winn, please stop trying to sound like and expert: One can see from a mile that you have never been inside of an incinerator, otherwise you would know that operators simply let the garbage in their bunker for a day or two, and a huge amount of moisture/water gets squeezed out under its own weight, and presto, the heat value goes up.
This whole idea of sending organic matter down the drains, and clogging our sewage system with cooking oil and grease is another irresponsible pipe dream.
Note: The few experimental plasma incinerators are all plagued by frequent trips and shutdowns; now what are the dioxin emission levels when a plasma plant shuts down, and during start-up? Maybe your buddy dynamco can give us the answer.
And as for "Lai See ""attending"" the International Conference on Solid Waste 2013 - Innovation in Technology and Management in Hong Kong", I recall seeing you there for about one hour during a public forum. If you would have indeed ATTENDED THE CONFERENCE you would have heard what ALL industry experts think about plasma gasification etc.: An interesting technology, but NOT mature enough for a city like Hong Kong to responsibly address its urgent waste management needs.
GAGFd Swiss git
"a city like Hong Kong" - a so-called World City trail blazing into the future with the most advanced technology, or not, as is the case here. If it's good enough for the Tees Valley in the north of England then, pray, why not good enough for Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is *not* responsibly addressing its urgent waste management needs because it has *no* recycling policy, none.
Sitting in his office looking out at the horizon, the earth certainly looks flat to Elvis Au. So why bother convincing him otherwise over and over again ? As far as the public is concerned, they get the bureaucrats that they deserve by being apathetic and take no action until the final countdown in the pro forma decision-making process. Where are all the outrage since 2012 when the proposed incinerator was first rejected by Legco ? What concerted political action beyond letter-writing, emailing and document dumping was taken to make this a pan Hong Kong waste management policy issue rather than a narrowly defined technology issue of incinerator vs plasma gasification ? Or a NIMBY issue of Tseng Tsui vs Shek Kwu Chau ? So suck on it, Hong Kong. You get the incinerator that you deserve.
Agreed. I think there is a reluctance to implement proper recycling laws too. Beyond the token bins for plastic, paper and metal (why no glass?) (which are probably still dumped in the landfill anyway), there has been absolutely no attempt to educate the public about recycling nor is there any sign of legislation about mandatory recycling. Year after year I listen to our CEs' policy addresses and this issue is never addressed - it's all about landfill expansion and incinerators, a completely defeatist attitude.
as for their 'local recycling' figures they are a sham, including imported transit waste
they want to legislate a charge for waste but do not want to legislate source separation of waste
any NT villager or private residence who separates their waste nicely will still get charged as they do not have a collection system in place & all will be dumped together so what's the point?
Meanwhile the behemoth incinerator will not appear until 2023 when the rest of the world will be using plasma gasification successfully for 9 years & at least 14 world airlines flying on biojet fuel made from the syngas with Maersk, the world's biggest shipper using bio marine fuel from the Fischer Tropsch process syngas
AU blatantly lied, not just downplayed, the effects of incinerators to those living in proximity to the burner
Hong Kong's proposed il have a 150 meter chimney stack meaning the whole of Hong Kong , Macau & south PRD will be the NIMBY area
Legco should investigate his lies




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