The Burning Issue Podcast 1/3: Advantages of Sikla in EfW plants

The Burning Issue podcast, hosted by Luke Walsh - Editor of ENDS Waste & Bioenergy, looks at how the UK is dealing with black bag waste sending it to Energy-from-Waste (EfW) facilities rather than landfill.


At the beginning of 2024, Sikla UK Managing Director and Head of Sales Region, Harry Starke sat down with Luke to discuss:

  • Advantages of Sikla products in EfW plants
  • Successful and unsuccessful projects
  • The effects of Brexit

EfW facilities are transforming the way waste is disposed. Since 2012, Sikla has engaged and supplied primary and secondary pipe supports to EfW contractors. Our solutions have been used within the general piping (GP) and water steam cycle (WSC) in some of the most magnificent sustainable power generation plants in the UK and worldwide (The Dubai waste-to-energy project).

In this blog (part 1 of 3) you can read the podcast transcript or listen to the full episode (S03: Ep04) here on Spotify that focus’ on:

  • The history of energy-from-waste in the UK and EU
  • Pipework required within facilities
  • The EPC market and major contractors


Recent EfW Sikla projects

Recent Sikla Energy-from-Waste projects

Luke Walsh (LW) -  From my perspective, lots of projects in the EFW and bioenergy sector are owned by people in the UK and lots of the supplies come from the EU. You (Sikla) come from the EU, and you have a big presence in the UK. Do you feel you are an exception in the sector dealing with projects here as well as the Middle East, Poland and Australia?


Harry Starke (HS) – A big presence is a little bit of an exaggeration. We are technically an SME and employ 30 plus people in the UK, which for a niche supplier like us is good. We do not do much else than the things we are talking about today. We do it for other projects outside the energy from waste markets, but pipe support is a niche discipline.


As far as UK versus Europe is concerned, I can only respond as an individual because I follow your publications and the general publications on the energy from waste sector, as this is important to us.


There are more than 500 incinerators in Europe and about 50 here in the UK, most of the latter have only emerged since the millennium. Those in Europe had been there well before the year 2000 and therefore the historic technology comes from the continent. This is the reason most companies involved in building these plants are from Europe.


That Sikla is also from Europe is more a coincidence because it was only through the UK’s surge of projects that we gained an interest and have now become a specialist for a niche element in these plants.


LW - I do not want you to sell yourself short. The plants would not work without the piping aspects. If anyone does not know, could you explain a bit more about how the piping bits work for energy from waste plants? When you get involved, what do you do?


HS Let us just start from scratch. When we are talking about pipe supports, and this is to an audience that would normally not have a great deal of interest in it, you need pipe work in all kinds of projects.


We could say that, for example, something like an airport hangar is at one end of the scale. That would be the most simplistic big project. It would require some utility piping and therefore pipe supports, which is the element that connects the piping with the building structure, and these supports would be highly repetitive. However, in comparison to the volumetric dimension of an airport hangar, it would be a very small thing for Sikla to deliver.


On the other end of the spectrum is waste incinerators. That is simply because you are facing a very small footprint and it is full of pipework. You open the door and pipework is what you see all around.


It is more a machine than a construction project. Energy-from-waste incinerators are the most challenging and the most exciting projects because you have so much pipework of different purpose and temperatures within a small volumetric space.


LW - A lot of the plants are built close to residential areas or in a set industrial area, so you have not got the space to move around. Hitachi Zosen Inova (HZI) has become the dominant force in developing EfW plants, especially in the UK. How do you interact with other businesses in the sector?


HS - Quite well. When we started the journey of engaging in this type of plant, the market, as you may remember, was not yet as dominated by HZI. There was more distribution between them and CNIM and Volund in Denmark.


Since then, HZI has become the dominant force, and we are doing our best to diversify. It is not just incinerators in which we are interested. We are also engaging in the biogas and anaerobic digestion markets. It is a different kind of package that we are supplying for that. Also, within thermal waste treatment itself, there are a few other players like the Spanish company.


Their background, compared to HZI, is different but what matters to us is this: do they need pipe work specified, delivered or not?


LW - The Spanish company is Acciona. They are building the North London Edmonton plant.


HS - The big difference to HZI is that they are a construction company. Acciona would also build bridges and hospitals, whereas HZI are a technology specialist. In EfW both companies take the responsibility for partly the same things and both companies are decision makers that we, Sikla, need to convince. However, they both look at the whole project in completely different ways.


LW - That's interesting because one of them is coming at it from the construction side and one of it is coming from the energy from waste side.


HS - Exactly. The EPC market is a funny piece of evolution. When you look at EPCs in any industry, then most of them once started with just one element of the projects that they now do turnkey. It is always the same story: you are involved in projects; you do a little bit and then you are asked by your client: can you do this? can you do that? Sometimes without your own ambition initially, you end up doing a lot more than what you started with. Finally, there are just a few small pieces of the jigsaw left and, by adding them, you are suddenly an EPC - if you have the money in the bank.


This what we also find in energy from waste markets is on the one hand the balance sheet that determines whether people trust you to build such a project but then you also need the expertise. As soon as you have 70% expertise, you can buy-in the 30% to do the whole thing as an EPC.


LW - You mentioned the EPC market. Other people on this podcast have said, we are getting to the end of the pipeline, but there are a few projects still looking to move to financial close and construction. How do you see it here in the UK?


HS -  Are you referring to the market being saturated of the plants?


LW - I would not say the market is saturated, but I would say, from talking to people like yourselves and others in the sector, that it is getting to the point where there are five or six more plants to be built and then the market might move to more refurbishment of existing facilities.


HS - I can only tell you what my gut feeling is. I mentioned earlier that there are so many more plants in European countries compared to the UK.


In the grand scheme of things, by the millennium, the UK in proportion to the population of then (approximately 65 million), had no real incinerator capacity. All of that just happened during last 20 years for a few reasons.


The country is growing, we are producing far more waste than others do. There is far more waste being produced, growing population and then still a far smaller number of plants than in European countries. From a plausibility perspective as an individual, I cannot see this market being saturated. It just does not make sense to me.


Why should it stop when we just have 50, 60 plants in the UK whilst France or Germany have more than 100?


LW – We are still landfilling waste, aren't we? The energy from waste is a better solution than landfill. You could argue therefore that we could need another 40 plants.


HS – These are political decisions. But talking about political decisions, I remember that more than 10 years ago we got an invitation for port tour. One of my logistics people went to Felixstowe for this. The most exciting takeaway that she came back with, was the revelation that the biggest single freight volume that Felixstowe at the time handled was black sack waste going to China. That was simply because there is generally such a surplus of empty container capacity going back: the UK is not exporting as much to China as it is importing from them. At least back then it was therefore economically viable to send UK black sack waste to China. Today this is politically not desired anymore. The UK got rid of waste in rather dodgy ways and landfill is no longer an option, as you know.


LW - The reverse logistics are still how most of the waste aggregators operate. There is still between one and one and a half million tons being exported to treatment in Europe now and that could be dealt with here if there were more plants. If there was a market for it, it would be dealt with here, wouldn't it?


HS - It is interesting, isn't it? Exporting waste to Europe with full customs procedure, can you imagine that?


Would you like to know more about how Sikla can support you in your next Energy-from-Waste project?

Sikla UK are leaders within the Sikla group for power generation projects and can support any project across the globe. View our references here or contact our specialist in Energy-from-Waste projects:


 Lucia GLucia Giraudo

Global Key Account Manager | Energy-from-Waste

+44 (0) 7912 290 386


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