The high rate of population growth, urbanization and economic expansion in the Middle East is not only accelerating consumption rates but also increasing the generation rate of all sorts of waste. High-income Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait are counted as world’s largest waste producers in terms of per capita waste generation which is more than 2kg per day in some countries. The urban waste generation from the region has now crossed 150 million tons per year which has forced policy-makers and urban planners to look for sustainable waste management solutions, including recycling and waste-to-energy.
In addition, huge quantity of sewage sludge is also generated in the Middle East which presents a serious problem due to its high treatment costs and risk to environment and human health. On an average, the rate of wastewater generation is 80-200 litres per person each day and sewage output is rising by 25 percent every year across the region.
Municipal solid waste is a very good source of biomass in the Middle East. Municipal solid waste is comprised of organic fraction, paper, glass, plastics, metals, wood etc. Almost 50% of the solid waste is contributed by organic matter.
Municipal solid waste can be converted into energy by conventional technologies (such as incineration, mass-burn and landfill gas capture). Municipal solid waste can also be efficiently converted into energy and fuels by advanced thermal technologies, such as gasification and pyrolysis.
At the landfill sites, the gas produced by the natural decomposition of MSW is collected from the stored material and scrubbed and cleaned before feeding into internal combustion engines or gas turbines to generate heat and power. In addition, the organic fraction of MSW can be anaerobically stabilized in a high-rate digester to obtain biogas for electricity or steam generation.
Anaerobic digestion is the most preferred option to extract energy from sewage, which leads to production of biogas and organic fertilizer. The sewage sludge that remains can be incinerated or gasified/pyrolyzed to produce more energy. In addition, sewage-to-energy processes also facilitate water recycling.
The variety of technological options available means that waste-to-energy can be applied at a small, localized scale primarily for heat, or it can be used in much larger base-load power generation capacity whilst also producing heat. Waste-to-energy conversion can thus be tailored to rural or urban environments in the Middle East, and utilized in domestic, commercial or industrial applications in the entire region.
The world’s dependence on Middle East energy resources has caused the region to have some of the largest carbon footprints per capita worldwide. The GCC region is now gearing up to meet the challenge of global warming, as with the rapid growth of the waste management sector. During the last few years, UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have unveiled multi-billion dollar investment plans to Improve waste management scenario. In particular, the establishment of Domestic Solid Waste Management Centre in Qatar has catalyzed public interest in deployment of waste-to-energy systems in the Middle East.
Energy recovery from MSW is rapidly gaining worldwide recognition as the fourth ‘R’ in sustainable waste management system – Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and Recover. A transition from conventional waste management system to one based on sustainable practices is necessary to address environmental concerns and to foster sustainable development in the region.