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Published 21 March 2013 09:59, Updated 21 March 2013 10:08
Waste not want not: Anthony Pratt says he wants to eventually use waste to allow him to be a seller, rather than a buyer of energy. Photo: Marshall Peterson
The large-scale conversion of waste into energy would, in theory, help resolve two of the world’s biggest problems.
Apart from rising energy costs associated with dirty fuels, there is far too much waste on the planet. The World Bank expects the 1.3 billion tonnes of waste to be produced in major cities to double by 2025.
Waste management costs are rising quickly in cities, according to Dan Hoornweg, an urban specialist in the World Bank’s finance, economics and urban development division.
“The richer you are, the more waste you generate and the more complex that waste is,” he says in a report.
Anthony Pratt knows how to turn household waste into electricity, he says, and has facilities in Australia and the US that are already making it happen.
But make no mistake; Pratt is no tree-hugging environmentalist. “We are doing it because it is a good way to make money.”
Pratt has spent about $200 million building four waste-to-energy plants next to paper mills in Australia and the US. It may be some time before he makes a return on his investment but his reasons for investing are significant.
Most of Pratt’s paper is made from recycled material but not all the waste that arrives at his plants is suitable for conversion into paper.
Turning the otherwise unusable waste into energy cuts his landfill expenses and helps reduce the amount of electricity he needs from the grid to run his power-hungry mills.
Converting waste to energy is not a new idea. It has typically been done via incineration, a process accused of doing more harm than good.
While Pratt’s facilities also burn waste, he says they use a gasification process, which doesn’t have the same environmental drawbacks as incineration.
“We believe that it is an idea whose time has come,” he says.
Pratt puts his annual energy bills at about $150 million in Australia and $100 million in the US. The paper mill in Conyers, Georgia, gets about 20 per cent of the power it needs from its adjacent energy plant.
While the use of what is, in effect, his own energy to power his mills offers potential cost savings, for Pratt there may be a bigger prize on offer. Once his infrastructure permits it, he wants to get into the energy business.
“Rather than being a buyer [of energy], we want to be a seller,” he says.