Heat, Power, Water, Resources, Plus Recreational Opportunities— What Can’t This Iconic New Waste-to-Energy Plant Do?

03/15/2017 08:24 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2017
 Amager Bakke, Copenhagen's new state-of-the-art waste incineration plant
Christoffer Regild
 Amager Bakke, Copenhagen's new state-of-the-art waste incineration plant

Copenhagen, Denmark--In the U.S. when we think of incinerators, we think of air pollution, bad smells, dioxin, toxic wastes, health effects, like cancer, and the destruction of local property values. So we often oppose their construction and want them as far as possible from densely populated urban areas.

In Copenhagen, when people think of their region’s new incineration plant, Amager Bakke, they think of skiing, mountain climbing, forests, expansive vistas, all inside the city limits

Amager Bakke not only shatters old stereotypes about incinerators, but it’s extraordinary as a technological achievement that has wowed even seasoned Danish engineers, among the world’s best.

The plant, just three miles from the Town Hall, is referred to as a waste-to-energy plant rather than an incinerator, and is a striking, aluminum-clad architectural design statement as well as a state-of-the-art mega-recycling machine.

Nearly 300 feet tall, Amager Bakke will take in vast quantities of wastes and, with scarcely any pollution, turn them into heat, power, recycled raw materials, and usable water.

The plant is owned by Copenhagen and four other municipalities. It consumes 400,000 tons of municipal waste a year and, at an energy efficiency that its design engineers proudly report as “107 percent” (thanks to a quirky engineering calculation), the plant will provide district heating for 160,000 households, electrical power for up to 62,500 households, while also producing 100 million litres of water condensed from its flue gases.

When I visited the huge construction project along Copenhagen’s waterfront on Amager Island, the builders were still trying to determine whether funds could be found to include a novel whimsical system for puffing out giant simulated smoke rings made of process steam from the plant’s tall stack.

The idea is to send up five steam rings, like smoke signals, every time the plant has emitted another ton of carbon dioxide, one pollutant that the plant still will discharge. The notion is to make the abstraction of carbon dioxide releases visible to raise public awareness about climate change. Whereas carbon dioxide is odorless and invisible, the giant “smoke rings” would be visible from afar.

Were all this not enough, Amager Bakke is the world’s first power plant with a ski slope on the roof and a 290-foot high climbing wall on which famous alpine climbing routes can be simulated.

Many Danes like to ski, but Denmark is flat, so Bjarke-Ingles Group, the project’s architect, designed the exterior of the building from the roof down as a year-round, artificial ski slope.

Sparing no effort, the slopes offer skiing at three different levels of difficulty. The “snow,” however, will be a white, all-weather plastic. Adjacent to the slopes, real trees will grow in a simulated forest.

Ulla Röttger, Director and CEO of what Danes call, “the Amager Ressourcecenter,” explained that in Denmark, there is a tiered approach to waste. “Primarily, we try to prevent the creation of waste,” she said, “Then we want to recycle it. Third [we convert] the waste to energy.” That turns the waste into an energy resource and reduces Denmark’s need for fossil fuels or biomass.

“Only two percent of the wastes in this [region] goes to landfills,” Röttger said. About 65 percent of the [region’s] waste is recycled. The rest . . . approximately 35 percent. . . is used for energy production.”

Denmark has a long tradition of waste to energy plants. “I suppose,” Röttger said, “it’s because we’re a small country, and we don’t have a lot of space for landfill.” Amager is one of two waste to energy plants in Copenhagen alone.

The waste to energy plant is part of the renewable energy system that Copenhagen and Denmark are creating. “We’re transforming our energy system in Denmark from central coal-fired power plants to renewables and wind mills and solar panels and heat pumps, so it’s quite a transition.” There is also a geothermal plant, but its costs of production are high. The waste-to-energy plant serves the needs of the larger system as it can provide reliable backup electricity when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

Citizens bring waste to the plant which has recycling stations. The waste is sorted out into about 30 different fractions and, besting the regional average, about 80 percent of what the plant receives goes to recycling. That portion that can’t be accepted as fuel for the plant goes to a landfill or, if necessary to a hazardous waste treatment and storage facility in Norway.

The leadership at Amager promotes a good neighbor ethos with respect to Copenhagen. “We [not only] want to take the waste from the city and give back to the city electricity and heat and recycled material. But we also want to give something more,” namely, recreational opportunities and quality of life enhancements. That’s something citizens of Copenhagen will no doubt appreciate as they ride lifts, ski, and climb on Amager’s back, or enjoy urban vistas from an observation area, or have a picnic and relax at Amarger’s rooftop café.

This article concludes an eight-part series of articles on the Copenhagen climate plan and energy transition, “Copenhagen Plans to Be Carbon-Neutral, Then Fossil-Fuel Free.”

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John J. Berger, PhD. (www.johnjberger.com) is an energy and environmental policy specialist who has produced ten books on climate, energy, and natural resource topics. He is the author of Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to the Climate Crisis, and Climate Myths: The Campaign Against Climate Science, and is at work on a new book about climate solutions.

Follow John J. Berger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johnjberger

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