The debate over whether waste-to-energy projects should be under the renewable energy umbrella may continue for years. In the meantime, waste will continue to build up unabated, and companies will continue to propose new methods to minimize the energy required or environmental consequences of disposing of it. This week, a division of the Pirelli tire company announced a partnership to move ahead on a waste-to-energy plan in the UK.

Pirelli Ambiente, the company within the Pirelli Group dedicated to renewable energy sources and technologies, has signed an agreement with ReEnergy, soon to be quoted on the London stock exchange, for the exploitation in the UK of Pirelli's patented RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel). Under the terms of the agreement, ReEnergy will produce and sell the Pirelli fuel throughout UK. Pirelli Ambiente will also supply the technical assistance necessary for the technology's implementation.

As a part of the agreement, Pirelli Ambiente will also evaluate the business's development potential of using Pirelli RDF in one of Europe's most interesting markets, as a partial fossil fuel substitute in electricity generation. In the UK, approximately 35 percent of electricity is produced by coal-fired power plants, compared with approximately 8 percent in Italy. As a part of the agreement Pirelli Ambiente may establish a joint venture with ReEnergy in the UK and subsequently further reinforce its presence in the territory.

Pirelli Ambiente's patented RDF is, according to its definition, a renewable energy source almost entirely derived from the dry fraction of municipal solid waste with the addition of highly calorific components (such as chlorine free plastics and granulated rubber). It is predominantly used in co-firing in partial substitution of coal in already existing industrial facilities such as thermoelectric power plants and cement kilns, without the need for construction of new chimneys.

In Italy, Pirelli's technology has been used for more than two years in Cuneo, where the proportion of energy recovery from municipal solid waste (approximately 32 percent) is higher than both the Italian average (8 percent) and the European average (25 percent). By providing an effective solution to the problem of waste disposal, the use of Pirelli RDF for partial substitution of coal in existing plants reduces the emissions of nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide, says the company. In addition to the environmental advantages, it also offers significant economic benefits: according to a study by the Institute of Economy and Politics of Energy and Environment at Milan's Bocconi University, electricity produced with Pirelli's RDF has the lowest production cost among all renewable energy sources.