Extracting Clean Energy From Trash in Pakistan

Among other things during a visit to Pakistan last year, the frequent power outages, commonly called "load shedding", and piles of garbage in the streets made a distinct impression on my family and I. Since our return to the United States, I have been wondering if it is possible to solve both problems at once? Clean up the streets by collecting garbage, and burn the collected trash to generate more electricity? It seems that the Danes are doing exactly that, according to a story in today's New York Times.

Denmark's Community Power Plants:

The new plants in Denmark are far cleaner than conventional incinerators. Such new type of plants convert local community trash into heat and electricity. Dozens of filters catch pollutants, from mercury to dioxin, that would have emerged from its smokestack only a decade ago.

As a result of new innovations, Denmark now regards garbage as a clean alternative fuel rather than a smelly, unsightly problem. And the incinerators, known as waste-to-energy plants, are welcomed by many upscale communities of professionals that vie to have them built.

Denmark now has 29 such plants, serving 98 municipalities in a country of over 5 million people, and 10 more are planned or under construction. Across Europe, there are about 400 plants, with Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands leading the pack in expanding them and building new ones, according to the New York Times.

Pakistan's Mountains of Garbage:

With the consumption boom of packaged products in the last few years, it seems that Pakistani cities are inundated with rubbish, and the garbage collection and waste disposal systems are totally inadequate. Here is an excerpt from my post in July 2009 about visit to Karachi:

"We saw lots of heaps of stinking trash in several parts of the city along the roadside on our way. It seemed as though the Karachi garbage collectors were on strike, but my impressions proved to be incorrect, as I was told that this was normal in several parts of Karachi. The government owned and operated garbage collection systems pick up less than 50% of the solid waste generated and the remaining uncollected garbage rots on the streets, posing serious health risks for the growing population. The massive piles of garbage also plug up the already inadequate storm water drains resulting in serious flooding in the monsoon months of July and August every year. None of the major cities in Pakistan have an adequate solid waste management system, though Karachi city government has reportedly contracted with a Chinese firm to establish and operate such a system. The waste collection and management firm, Shanghai Shen Gong Environmental Protection Company Limited, will start its operations of collecting litter from across the city from August 14, 2009 - initially in only six of the eighteen towns of the city of Karachi. And, as expected, this service will not come free, nor should it. Karachi-ites will be required to pay Rs. 100 to 1,000 per month as public utility charges under six categories (according to lot size) on their residential units. Businesses built on 200 sq yards to 10,000 sq yards or more will have to pay Rs. 500 to Rs. 5,000 in garbage collection fees while industrial units covering an area of 1,000 sq yards to 5,000 sq yards and above will be billed Rs. 500 to Rs. 2,000 per month. There have already been howls of protests against these garbage collection fees and it will be interesting to see how effective CDGK (City District Government of Karachi) will be in ensuring payments."

Unfortunately, I am told that things have gotten much worse since last year. The City District Government of Karachi (CDGK) has since been dissolved, and the privatization of garbage collection has not materialized. At the same time, the energy crisis has become significantly more acute, with extended hours of "load shedding" on a daily basis.


There is no real substitute for dramatic improvements in government's energy policies and governance to solve the acute energy problems Pakistan faces. However, I do think the Danish experience is worth exploring by at least some of the communities in Pakistan. Instead of just complaining about mounting garbage piles, and running noisy and polluting diesel generators to fill the growing power gap, it is time for some of the upscale urban communities to start taking a page from the European experience to kill two birds with one stone. Based on the "clean energy" designation, these projects might even qualify for dollars from carbon credits under Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Upscale communities such as Defense Housing Societies should seek guidance from their Danish counterparts to establish a few pilot projects to prove the concept in Pakistan.

Similar efforts can be undertaken in the industrial sector as well, with various industrial estates leading the way to solve their power problems. Rachna Industrial Park near Sheikhupura has already launched a 25 MW trash-burning power plant project currently underway.

Here's a video explaining waste to energy processes:

Related Link:

Load Shedding and Circular Debt in Pakistan

Creative Financing of Pakistan's Energy Projects

Eleven Days in Karachi

Garbage Disposal in South Asia

Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash

Going Through the CDM Process

Pakistan's Energy Crisis

Renewable Energy for Pakistan

Pakistan Inks Hydroelectric Power Deals

Carbon Offsets Under Fire

The Politics of Climate Change

Cap and Trade and The New Carbon Economy

Electric Power Crisis Worsens in Pakistan

Light a Candle, Don't Curse Darkness

Social Entrepreneurs Target India and Pakistan

Grameen Shakti Solar For Pakistan

Waste-to-Energy Needed in Pakistan

Climate Change Worsens Poverty in India

Carbon Trading: Opportunity For Pakistan


Riaz Haq said…
Here's Bloomberg story on power plant burning waste to produce electricity:

Swiss Water Tech Research & Development SA, a green-technology developer, said it’s in line to win about $200 million of contracts in Pakistan to supply clean-power plants that run on waste.
The Neuchatel, Switzerland-based company received a letter of intent from the Punjab state government and will provide the technology for a 100-megawatt project, Chief Operational Operator Ralph Hofmeier said in an interview. Swiss Water is also in talks with private companies for a similar amount of capacity that includes agreements last week with three firms for 17 megawatts.
The plants could run on liquid or solid waste to generate power more cheaply than coal, solar or wind projects, Hofmeier said in Karachi without elaborating. The company is seeking funds from Habib Bank Ltd. that would be backed by a sovereign guarantee from the Pakistan government, he said on Nov. 26.
Swiss Water officials in Pakistan last week signed a memorandum of understanding, Memoona Arslan, communications manager at state-owned Lahore Waste Management Co., said by phone from Lahore. Four thousand tons of solid waste will be needed to produce the 100 megawatts, Arslan said.
The payback period for such investments can be as short as 15 months, according to Hofmeier. A 100-megawatt plant in the U.S., where consumption rates differ from Pakistan, can power about 80,000 average homes, according to electric data.
Pakistan is the sixth-most populous nation with about 200 million residents. The country can suffer power, light and fan outages in some areas of up to 18 hours a day during summer months. Blackouts have sparked violent protests and affected a textile industry that accounts for 54 percent of exports.
Water contamination is such in the country that 15.9 million people, more than Ecuador’s population, lack access to safe drinking water, according to Ehsan Malik, chairman of Unilever Pakistan Ltd. Infectious water-borne diseases in Pakistan are a leading cause of infant deaths from diarrhea, the chief executive said last month.


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