A study carried out by the University of the South Pacific’s Physics staff and students has finally confirmed that the municipal solid waste (MSW) produced in the Central Division is sufficient to generate as much as 6 Megawatts of electricity using well-known waste-to-energy technologies. The result is an important example of academic research can inform technological development in the region.
The idea of using waste to generate energy is nothing new. It is a big industry abroad, and growing rapidly. Currently there are about 780 waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities world-wide that process 140 million tonnes of MSW per year.The question was whether Fiji could follow suit.
The results of the study, though preliminary, are the first indication of a positive answer that had long eluded decision-makers in the industrial sector. It will allow entrepreneurs and energy planners to press ahead with plans for the establishment of waste-to-energy power plants in VitiLevu.
Team leader, Dr Anirudh Singh, said one of the important quantities that had to be determined was the net energy balance (NEB) for the generation of electricity from the MSW produced locally. He pointed out that domestic waste is generally a low energy content and highly dispersed feedstock. To bring together all the material to one place will require considerable amount of transportationand consumption of fossil fuel energy. The exercise can become pointless if the amount of energy input required for transporting the feedstock exceeds the energy it can generate. The USP study has revealed that this quantity is positive and large, thus making the process energetically viable.
Chief investigator, Physics Division’s Ms Shirleen Swapna led the experimental work with the assistance of several Physics students. Their findings included the result that the organic fraction (i.e. the fraction of the domestic waste that is organic) of Suva’s MSW was 70%.
The work was carried out with the full cooperation of the Suva City Council, which furnished vital information on the transport and tonnage of MSW in the Central Division. A meeting is now being arranged with the SCC and other stakeholders to fully discuss output of the research.
Dr Singh said the work is just beginning. He explained that as the net energy balance will depend on the specific location of the proposed power plant, a thorough investigation has to be carried out to discover the strategic location that will produce the maximum power at the lowest cost. This aspect of the research will require multi-disciplinary input.