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Smoke and obfuscation in defence of outdated incineration technology

South China Morning Post

Howard Winn
Jan 06, 2012

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RTHK’s Backchat programme on Wednesday generated a certain amount of heat with its discussion on the proposed Shek Kwu Chau incinerator project. Elvis Au was wheeled out to bat for the government. He is the assistant director of the Environmental Protection Department.

During the discussion, Au defended the decision to use old moving-grate technology, which essentially moves the material over a grate and burns it, producing a noxious fume that is vented through a chimney that, at 130 metres high, will be about half the size of the IFC 1 building. Scrubbers on the incinerator will eliminate some of the particulate matter (PM10) that are 10 micrometres in size. But it will not stop the more dangerous carcinogenic-causing particulate matter (PM2.5) which, depending on the wind direction, will add to the poor air quality in Kowloon or the Pearl River Delta. Some 1,200 tonnes of fly ash a day, complete with dioxins, will also have to be transferred to barges and dumped.

When pressed on why the government was not considering plasma arc technology, which produces considerably fewer emissions and is environmentally much cleaner, Au became somewhat cagey. He said the government had spoken to representatives from plasma arc firms, but remained unconvinced, saying the technology was untested and could only handle relatively small quantities. This does not seem to square with evidence elsewhere, which suggests that, in theory, any volume of waste can be handled by increasing the number of burners.

Despite the decision against plasma arc technology, we gather that Aecom, the government’s consultants, will be visiting a plasma arc firm in Britain later this month to further inform themselves. But Aecom’s counterparts in North America seem more informed. Commenting on Milwaukee’s plans to proceed with a 1,200-tonne per day plant using plasma arc technology,Aecom’s Mike Zebell said: “We believe that this technology is not only environmentally friendly, but ready for large-scale commercialisation.”

The suspicion is that the government’s reluctance to consider plasma arc technology is because it is pandering to business interests, in that the proposed incinerator plan involves significant reclamation work and contractors are already salivating at the prospect of another lucrative concrete pouring exercise

Environmental official Elvis Au

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Environmental official Elvis Au

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