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Aerial view of the Centro de Tratamento de Resíduos Sólidos in the district of Jardim Filadélfia in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Photo credit: Google Imagery ©2012 Cnes/ Spot Image, Digital Global, GeoEye)

Belo Horizonte turns waste into power

February 13, 2013

The Municipal Waste Treatment Centre (Centro de Tratamento de Resíduos Sólidos, CTRS) in the district of Jardim Filadélfia, Belo Horizonte (Brazil) – once the city’s largest single source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - has been successfully transformed into a cost-effective energy generating waste treatment center after operating as a conventional landfill for 32 years.

From dumping site to power station

By capturing and treating landfill methane – a combustible natural gas released from decomposed organic matter and a potent greenhouse gas contributing to flooding and air pollution, the CTRS was first turned into an “energy landfill” in 1989.  

But this method of generating biofuel came to a deadlock in 2007 when the volume of landfill biogas continued to decrease while the landfill site was reaching its maximum capacity.

To find an alternative solution for managing the large amount of solid waste while contributing to the city’s growing energy needs, the city government of Belo Horizonte decided to close the CTRS in December 2007.

Meanwhile, a 10-year biogas collection project was launched to create new plant with new technologies to better manage biogas collection and transmission, suction and control, treatment, electricity generation and flare combustion. The revamped plant came into operation in 2010. The company which won the tender for capturing the biogas was required to comply its operation to the certification and marketing of carbon credits – a Clean Development Mechanism under the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol.

Occupying a total area of 114 hectares, the redesigned CTRS includes the old landfill site, units for managing and recycling waste, collecting and processing biogas, as well as an environmental education unit that provides education and tours to citizens.  

Not only does the center generate additional energy enough to support the electricity consumption of approximately 30,000-35,000 people, it also significantly improves the living environment and reduces the city’s GHG emission by 237,473 tCO2e/y in 2009 to 2010.

Cities need better solid waste management

According to a recent World Bank report, global urban solid waste amounts to an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes per year – a figure that was expected to increase to 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025.

Rapid urbanization and rising levels of disposable incomes have allowed people to consume more – and produce more waste, but cities and countries worldwide often lack the formal and well-established infrastructure to reduce, reuse, recycle and recover waste, the report says.

The transformation of CTRS through different landfill stages offers an excellent example of how city governments and the private sector can cooperate to reap greater benefits from exploiting waste as a renewable energy resource, while reducing the community’s carbon footprint.

An active promoter of solid waste management (SWM) practices, Belo Horizonte developed its Integrated SWM Model back in 1993, including activities like waste separation at sources, selective collection of recyclable waste and a landfill gas capture scheme.

In 2006, the Municipal Department for Environment established the Municipal Committee on Climate Change and Eco-Efficiency. A law was subsequently introduced to provide the Municipal Policy for Climate Change Mitigation, including the target of reducing the city’s GHG emission by 20% by 2030 as compared to 2007.

For more information about Belo Horizonte’s solid waste management, read the full case study by ICLEI and the International Renewable Energy Agency.