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How to reduce interruption and damage risk at EfW sites

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According to one recent CN feature, energy-from-waste plants are “well placed to play a huge role in future [construction] projects”, with the UK industry having “evolved rapidly over the last 15 years”.

With such a strong focus on this industry, what are the key challenges that need to be considered when building and managing an EfW plant?

Without question, one of the key EfW challenges that we would urge contractors and project owners to address is the risk of fire. Due to the unique nature of waste-receiving halls, fires can present a number of unique challenges. As waste materials can burn for a long time and be difficult to extinguish, there is a significant chance that a fire could result in property damage and business interruption costs.

How to tackle the risks

So what can be done to ensure that fire risks are suitably mitigated for EfW plants? Careful selection of effective fire protection and detection solutions is essential.

If an inappropriate system is selected, the system may not provide the level of fire protection expected by owners, meaning that in the event of a fire their business could suffer a significant loss.

To properly understand how companies should protect their EfW plants, it is recommended that they ask themselves a series of questions such as:

1) Are feed materials stored in large piles? This could result in self-heating and self-ignition.

2) Are waste goods stored in large loose piles? This will impact the selection of the sprinkler protection design and present challenges such as deep-seated burrowing fires.

3) Does the EfW plant have high ceilings? This can cause potential delays in sprinkler activation and reduced effectiveness, as larger water droplets are required to reach the fire.

4) Is the plant unheated? The use of conventional ‘wet’ sprinkler systems presents a challenge when installed within unheated buildings where low temperatures are experienced (below 4 deg C), due to the risk of freezing pipework, damage and leakage.

5) Is the building fire-resistive? If plants are not built using fire-resistive construction methods, there is an increased risk of building collapse. This means fire response teams are likely to use defensive firefighting tactics rather than entering the building to fight the fire.

Depending on your answers, you may find it useful to discuss your fire protection systems with an experienced risk engineer that will help you better understand the potential physical and financial implications to your business.

Bernadette Hackett is head of the construction industry community at Zurich and can be reached at



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