What have been some of the developments at Be'ah over the past year?
Be'ah does not consider itself solely as a waste management company, but a part of Oman's larger sustainability drive. Today, we manage the municipal waste of the entire Sultanate. Oman's healthcare waste is handled through three facilities and two nationwide contracts. As part of our internal strategy, we outsource all services, thus contributing toward economic growth and in-country value. In 2021, Be'ah entered into its strategic Phase III with a focus on moving toward excellence and the aim of removing municipal waste away from landfills. The company had planned to achieve 60% waste diversion from landfills by 2020, a target that now has been pushed to 2025 due to unprecedented challenges. We also run biogas initiatives across the country and have a material recovery facility in Buraimi with a sorting capacity of 20 tons per hours and 11% diversion rate on daily basis. Recycling comes at a cost, and Be'ah's services are logistics-based, as we ply our fleet of vehicles across the country to collect and transport waste. Sustainability needs to factor in economic feasibility. Therefore, our waste-to-energy initiative will help us not just achieve the aforementioned target, but also taking the percentage of waste diverted from landfills to more than 80% by 2030. Moreover, Be'ah operates an integrated waste treatment facility for industrial and hazardous waste in Sohar. The second phase of this facility will be expanded to include thermal treatment (incinerator plant) and a physical/chemical treatment plant. In 2021, we will float a tender for the second phase of the facility, which Be'ah will build and have a technical operator run until our staff is trained as part of knowledge transfer. We plan to announce an IPO of the facility after 10 years. We have conducted considerable R&D activity, community outreach initiatives, awareness programs, and capacity-building in sustainability. Prior to COVID-19, Be'ah was actively involved with schools with initiatives to instill correct waste disposal habits among children of grades four to six.
How do biogas and biodiesel plants make sense both environmentally and financially?
Biogas is derived from organic waste that comes from fruit, vegetables, poultry, meat, fish markets, slaughterhouses, farms, and the treatment of wastewater. This treatment process generates gases as well as digestate similar to compost rich in nutrients. You can convert that gas into electricity, and we are working on four projects in this direction. Other projects are PPPs, and investors are looking at two main things—a guarantee in electricity sales and payment for the treatment of waste. A project to generate biodiesel from used cooking oil from restaurants, hotels, and so on is in the pipeline. An investor is setting up a facility in Barka that should be operational by 2022. Oman currently has four such facilities. While this biofuel will be available for the market, Be'ah too will be interested in using it for its fleet of trucks.
What steps need to be taken to create an organized ecosystem for the waste management sectors that clearly shows the opportunities for SME involvement?
From the perspective of a circular economy, this sector is creating several opportunities for SMEs. These will have to be backed by regulations to ensure success. Waste worth more than OMR400 million is exported every year, without much in-country value derived. We can do something with this waste, because we already have recycling facilities for paper and car batteries. We have four facilities for steel that can take all scrap steel, like in the case of aluminum. Hundreds of jobs can be created in transporting waste to recycling facilities. Currently, however, unauthorized laborers are collecting it and taking it abroad, creating more emissions in the process. Keeping the waste within the country to treat it will support our goals of a circular economy.
At what stage are you with the Barka waste-to-energy (WtE) plant project?
Waste-to-energy projects are environmental in nature and hence not a regular IPP. It is expensive if it is a short-term IPP project, and we are looking to extend the term to 35 years instead of 15 and increase the quantity of waste. Only then will we be able to compete with conventional plants. We are issuing a pre-qualification tender this year, and by 2025 should see the project become operational. If that happens, we would direct 4,500 tons of our municipal waste into this project, which is more than 86% of our current generation. It costs almost 2.5 times more to generate electricity at WtE plants than natural gas facilities. Having a power purchase agreement with the right authority is, therefore, essential. They also get a treatment fee from us and then generate a limited revenue from the metals derived from the treatment process. The mindset to pay to treat waste is not common in the country, as it is in Europe. We would rather have someone pay for our waste. This is, however, slowly changing.
How is the value of waste increasing as new innovative technology emerges for its usage?
Waste is a commodity, and its value depends upon its type. Metal waste has been holding nicely because today there is big demand for copper, but this is not the waste we receive at Be'ah. We get communal waste of limited value. Plastic and paper have faced different challenges causing countries to put more effort into sorting waste. Now you see more companies investing heavily in automation, AI, and big data for their sorting facilities to be more cost effective. Green logistics are gaining importance, while technology is being used to address and manage behavior through awareness campaigns.