One of the projects Low Carbon highlights in this newsletter, and which will be held in São Paulo's countryside, intends to build a solid waste classification plant, where it is possible to receive such waste, separate materials between recyclable and non-recyclable and, at the same time, produce renewable energy to recharge the batteries of the electric trucks responsible for the collection.
Check below the interview with Gabriel Hamuche and André Tchernobilsky, founders of ZEG Ambiental.
1. ZEG has entered the "100 Startups to Watch" list, a survey promoted by Pequenas Empresas & Grandes Negócios and Época NEGÓCIOS magazines, by Editora Globo. Tell us a little about the story of the company and what led you to conquer this space.
AT - The concept of ZEG Ambiental was born in 2010, but we started the company effectively in 2012. It all started when I returned to Brazil after living in Luxembourg and working at an automotive company, right in the period when the National Solid Waste Policy was being implemented. I studied this market and realized how late Brazil was in this sector. This is how ZEG came into being, aiming to end the problem of dumping grounds in the country.
Gabriel started to research the Brazilian market as I went to get references in other countries about technologies for waste management and energy transformation. We discovered two essential things to create ZEG in this process: 1 - Out of the 5,600 Brazilian cities, half of them have dumping grounds or are located far from sanitary landfills, and most of them discard waste in a completely wrong and unscaled way for waste recovery projects. 2 - Countries that do what they can to solve problems related to waste are the ones generating more energy.
So we thought about developing our own technology based on a french technique and an international business model trend, 3D designs: Decarbonisation, Digitization and electrification, and Decentralization of solutions - (waste treatment and distributed generation). We ended up implementing the 4th D, Democratization of resources, to enable operations, reduce displacements and landfill rates so that small cities with few budget resources could invest in safety, education, health, urban development, job creation and etc. In addition, all ZEG projects will be recycled, promoting circular economy.
I believe we started to arouse the interest of the market and investors when we did two projects in startup competitions of Votorantim Metais and Citrosuco, and being part of this ranking in such a short period of time was very rewarding for us.
2. One of ZEG's business units, ZEG Ambiental, has developed a new technology for power generation, a revolution in the pyrolysis system. Can you explain a little more?
AT - In order to meet the sanitation needs of Brazil, having waste generated in cities with less than 100,000 inhabitants, and due to the absence of efficient technology on this scale, ZEG joined a French scientist who had developed a highly efficient thermo-diffuser. It can work at temperatures above 1,000 Cº. With the reactor core concept implemented, we brought knowledge about the automotive system to add cutting-edge technology to its peripherals. We have an efficient core with an artificial intelligence and cognitive education automation system that enables reactors to communicate with each other and with the plant control centre, always aiming to improve performance and operational availability.
The instantaneous waste disintegration system works with no air, high temperatures, reducing atmosphere and negative pressure. It would be within a technological pyrolysis matrix, but we consider it to be an important evolution of this system. We do not generate any kind of oil or pyrolysis and tar extracts. We generate a clean synthetic gas with high calorific value.
Because it is highly efficient, we recover over 90% of the higher calorific value of the waste, so we can compact our reactor into 40'' containers which can handle over 96% of the cities of Brazil with one single reactor.
For very large cities our goal would be to replace garbage transhipments with our mills.
Our quick-latch container can be installed in 10 days; it's like implementing a landfill in each city in 10 days, making the deviation of the need for landfills increase by over 90%. Only inert ashes remain.
Therefore, we have the "State of the Art" in energy recovery in terms of flexibility, modularity and mobility.
3. What technological innovation interested you in your Italian partner company Parini?
GH - Parini has over 3 decades of experience implementing automated sorting plants around the world with cutting-edge technology. It has technical capacity to deliver turn-key plants and manufactures all components such as: power vibrators, trommel, ballistic separator and air separators.
4. What can we learn from Europeans regarding waste management?
GH - Europe is 50 years ahead of Brazil regarding waste management. Strong companies with advanced technology have been in this industry for decades. Brazil is totally insipid in dealing with waste. Over half of the waste is not disposed properly and about 10% is not even collected. In terms of regulation, Brazilian laws have practically used the European ones as a base. What needs to be done now is implementing what already exists in terms of law since 2010.
We can learn from Europe that there is no single solution. There are particularities from region to region, but Recycling with Energy Recovery will always be the best environmental and social solution.
The countries generating the most energy from waste are the ones that value waste the most, that recover recycled materials and practice the 3 Rs (recycling, reusing and reducing). Currently, waste energy recovery plants in Europe are able to supply electricity to almost 20 million people, reducing considerably GHG emissions to the atmosphere.
5. How will the plant work, specifically the waste sorting part?
AT - We are releasing in 2019 what we consider the most efficient and advanced project in the world regarding social, environmental and economic results.
We will help a small town (100,000 inhabitants) to recover the maximum value of their waste by sorting recyclable materials with local collectors cooperative, clean water generation because we treat the moisture of the waste before it goes into our reactor, generation of electricity to the market with our FDS system, collection of waste in electric garbage trucks, loading station of the trucks with energy from the waste they collect, and finally, we are developing a CO2 capture system for the combustion gas of our system that will make its proper separation and purification to later be added in greenhouses for cultivation and consumption of fruits and vegetables for the local poor communities. Finally, about 5% of inert ash will remain and may be incorporated into the cement furnaces. We are close to realizing a dream of having almost 100% deviation from the need for landfills in a city.
This model can be replicated not only in Brazil, but in other countries of equal geopolitical challenge.
We call this project the 4D Mini Ecopark:
2. Decentralization of garbage disposal - less operating cost with less mileage travelled by trucks.
3. Digitization/Electrification of things - electric trucks stocked with the garbage they collect.
4. Democratization of Resources - regional social and economic development with more qualified jobs, higher tax collection, reduction of municipal costs with wastemanagement, reduction of municipal costs with energy, greenhouses to grow food in city communities. We bet we can help in democratization of resources for our society, enabling the city to invest the gains in more essential sectors such as education, health, security, infrastructure, etc.
6. What are the main environmental impacts caused by the project and the results expected?
GH - One of the main environmental impacts is certainly the emission reduction of over 2t of greenhouse gases. But the project will offer a great socioeconomic development of the cities, promoting circular economy, 100% recovery of garbage, generation of clean energy, recyclable materials, social inclusion.
Another important aspect is that, by using electric trucks, we will also stop emitting gaseous pollutants, as they are driven by batteries, which are powered by the energy generated by the waste. The garbage truck is the machine that emits the highest rate of CO2 in the planet: 1.24 Kg of CO2 for each Km travelled.
We can't forget to mention the recovery of 25 thousand tonnes per year of urban solid waste and 8 tonnes of recyclable material.
7. Is this project intended for industry, public or private sector? Who are the main customers and what are market expectations?
GH - By the end of 2019 we will already have our first plant in operation and we expect to have customers in all sectors, both public and private. Our project is extremely competitive for small and medium scale.
We can solve the waste problem, generating thermal and electric energy to our customers.
Our technology, deep down, is a synthetic gas generator that promotes total replacement of fossil fuels.
8. Why did you choose countryside São Paulo to start the project? What is the scalability of the project in other states of Brazil or even outside the country?
AT - There are several factors that contributed to the project to start in countryside São Paulo, the first of which is that the State of São Paulo recently started to eliminate dumping grounds, generating a need for a viable solution. It is also easier to perform logistics of recyclables by promoting circular economy. It is a state with consortia already implemented, which facilitates the implementation of our decentralized business model. Partners were also instrumental in this choice.
9. To conclude, how does Low Carbon Brazil sees the EU initiative? Can we say it was essential for your project to come true?
GH - Low Carbon was crucial for this exchange of technical knowledge and feasibility of projects. ZEG, which stands for "Zero Emission Generation", is fully in line with the EU's discourse and actions; we were born with the purpose of producing and generating clean energy. In addition, I think they should continue with the project, so that other low-carbon sectors also benefit from new solutions against climate change.