It was the scene of a rock concert and the feeling was excitement, but the venue was a landfill and the occasion was the opening of a waste-to-energy facility.
Despite the windy cold weather and the dominant stench of decaying garbage, the hundreds, most of whom were headscarf-clad women waiting for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan resembling in their haste teenagers wait for their favorite male rock star, were gathered in Odayeri Waste Field near Istanbul’s Kemerburgaz district on Saturday. Erdoğan was expected to appear for the opening of Istanbul’s first waste-to-energy facility built by Ortadoğu Group.
"The aim is to extract the methane gas from the landfill gas and get rid of it because methane is 21 times more poisonous than carbon dioxide," said Bülent Keklik, Ortadoğu Group’s general vice coordinator, in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
Although Ortadoğu Group is situated in the conservative side of the political spectrum, it is quite willing to take risks when it comes to business and environmental issues. This is why the group decided to enter the tender organized by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. The tender was for waste-to-energy treatment in two main waste areas in Istanbul, Odayeri in Kemerburgaz in Istanbul’s European side and Kömürcüoda near Şile in Istanbul’s Asian side. Both areas are run by the Istanbul Environmental Preservation and Assessment of Refuse Materials, or İSTAÇ, municipal enterprise and have been used to dispose of domestic waste since 1995. Waste has been "caked" with 60 centimeters of clay and 50 centimeters of earth between every 5 meters of waste. The wastewater created at the landfill is transported to a water treatment facility also on the grounds.
A former incident
The landfill itself now appears as a cluster of dusty bare hills punctuated by pipes placed here and there to prevent the accumulation of methane, which may lead to explosions. In fact, one such accumulation of methane gas caused an explosion in the Ümraniye Hekimbaşı landfill in 1993, claiming the lives of 39.
Under the project, the methane gas formed by the fermentation of domestic waste in the landfill will be vacuumed out and used to produce electricity. The project differs in this regard from many of its examples in Europe, such as Sysav waste-to-energy plant in Sweden, which admits all domestic waste to the plant, burns it, collects the gas emitted from the burning process, and then uses this gas to produce electricity.
"Energy is Turkey’s biggest short-coming. Many companies want to enter the field; hydroelectric, wind, solarÉ It has been our dream; we already had native infrastructure and engineering groups. We received loan from the Development Bank of Turkey," said Keklik, adding that the group had received know-how from Canadian Biothermica Technologies, German Haase Energietechnik, and had used General Electric’s Jenbacher Landfill Gas Engines.
Keklik said the vast population of Istanbul, currently estimated around 17 million, creates a lot of waste. "The gas emitted from this waste is dangerous; it can explode, it causes air pollution, the gas itself thins the ozone layer," said Keklik. "Turkey signed the Kyoto Treaty. So emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases [in Turkey] should be put within a limit."
Carbon emissions to decrease
The two plants are expected to produce a total of 35 MWh of electricity each day and will be sold to the municipality’s power distribution grid, currently at 0.055 Euros for every kWh. "These will produce enough energy to satisfy the needs of 112,000 residentces," said Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş during his speech at the opening. He said carbon emissions in the city would be decreased by 1.2 million tons.
During the opening ceremony Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu, recalling that Turkey signed the Kyoto Protocol this year, said Turkey has taken big steps to tackle with the global climate change and this will be a big indicator in European Union, or EU, environment negotiations.
Eroğlu said he was proud to launch a green facility in Istanbul with the project of turning the waste gas in landfills into electric power.
"This facility is important for Istanbul. In 1993 the situation of the solid waste was in a bad state. There were mountains of waste in the streets. They were being thrown here and there under the name of unsanitary disposal. Even the hospital waste was thrown into garbage bins in the streets," Eroğlu said.
In the beginning of 1990s there was an explosion in Istanbul’s Asian neighborhood Ümraniye that led the death of 38 people. Eroğlu drew attention to the time when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and him giving an order to establish garbage disposal depots.
Solid waste transferring centers were set up in each district of Istanbul and medical waste was sent to incineration plants back then.
Emphasizing that a facility that produces electricity from a regular waste depot has been established for the first time in Turkey, Eroğlu said. "The facility will produce electric power from coal gas, which triggers the global warming 21 times more compared to carbon dioxide. By producing 28 megawatts of energy, the facility will bring 15 to 20 million dollars of profit," he said.