CCS and CCU Options for Swiss Waste-to-Energy Plants
What can we do with 4 million tons of CO2 per year? This was the question asked by the Association of Operators of Swiss Waste Incineration Plants (VBSA), which represents all 30 waste-to-energy (WtE) plants currently in operation in Switzerland. Together, these 30 WtE plants emit a total of approximately 4.4 million tons of CO2 per year - about half of these emissions are fossil-based, and the other half biogenic.
Through research and industry interviews the results of which were validated through stakeholder workshops that included participants from industry, academia and other organizations including ETH, Industrielle Werke Basel, IET Institut für Energietechnik, Swiss RE, Limeco, WWF, Rytec AG, BAFU, these key results were identified:
Decarbonization of the waste sector will need to come from capturing CO2 emissions at WtE plants, as the total quantity of waste for incineration is not expected to go down materially until 2050
Swiss WtE plants are already embedded in the energy system and can help to enable the transition to renewables
CO2 capture is a commercially available technology starting at a cost of CHF 68 per ton of CO2 excl. cost of purification and liquefaction
We scanned three broad options to deal with the captured CO2: Utilization for the generation of eMethane, eMethanol, Carbonation and Deep geological storage
Conversion to eMethane and eMethanol are not feasible at the required scale due to energy requirements and temporary nature of CO2 storage
Large-scale carbonation of CO2 was not found to be practicable in Switzerland
Geological storage of CO2 in Switzerland is unlikely to become available over the next 10-20 years
As an alternative to storage in Switzerland, northern European offshore storage projects might become an option within the next few years
Costs are expected to be high in the beginning and need further investigation
If implemented, CCS on waste to energy plants could unlock faster pathways to a carbon-neutral future for other sectors like cement, heavy transport and heat
What this shows us is that the most promising path to drastically reduce CO2 emissions from Swiss WtE plants appears to be capturing CO2, enabling its transport to northern Europe and storing it permanently in suitable geological formations. Further, This approach should be extended to other large point sources in Switzerland, like cement production and other “hard-to-decarbonize” large CO2 point sources.