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A rising industry

America has long remained one of the most wasteful countries in the world, generating 239 million metric tons of garbage every year, about 1,600 to 1,700 pounds per person. While some view it as a threat to our environment and society, the solid waste management industry sees an opportunity.

“It’s a profitable industry,” according to Debra Reinhart, a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors for the EPA. “It’s a difficult industry but it is profitable if it’s done right.”

Two private companies, Waste Management and Republic Services, lead the solid waste management sector. Together they own about 480 landfills out of the 2,627 landfills across the United States. The two companies have seen staggering performance in the market, with the stock prices of both doubling in the past five years. Both Waste Management and Republic Services declined CNBC’s request for an interview.

“They’ve learned how to be best-in-class businesses,” said Michael E. Hoffman, a managing director at Stifel Financial. “Their publicly traded stocks outperformed the market handily between 2015 and 2019 and underpinning it is a meaningful improvement in their free cash flow conversion.” The stocks have continued to outperform.

Tipping fees

Since its inception, landfills have made a majority of their revenue via tipping fees. These fees are charged to trucks that are dropping off their garbage based on their weight per ton.

In 2020, municipal solid waste landfills had an average tipping fee of $53.72 per ton. That translates to roughly $1.4 million a year in approximate average gross revenue for small landfills and $43.5 million a year for large landfills just from gate fees.

Tipping fees have seen steady growth over the past four decades. In 1982, the national average tipping fee sat at $8.07 per ton or about $23.00 when adjusted for inflation. That’s nearly a 133% increase in 35 years.

While tipping fees make landfills sound like a risk-free business, they are still quite an expensive investment. It can cost about $1.1 million to $1.7 million just to construct, operate and close a landfill. For this reason, private companies have replaced municipal governments to own and operate the majority of the landfills across the U.S.

“I think it’s because the trend has been to go larger and larger so the small neighborhood dump can’t exist because of the regulations and the sophistication of the design,” Reinhart said. “So we are tending to see large landfills, which do require a lot of investment upfront.”

Privatization of landfills

Private companies have also played an important role in discovering new ways beyond tipping fees to turn a profit out of garbage. Landfill mining and reclamation, a process of extracting and reprocessing materials from older landfills, is one of them.

In 2011, a private scrap metal company contracted with a nonprofit landfill in southern Maine to mine precious metals. In four years, they recovered more than 37,000 tons of metal worth $7.42 million.

But it isn’t always a success story. In 2017, the city of Denton, Texas, ended its landfill mining program before it could even start after realizing that the benefits weren’t worth its $4.56 million price tag. According to experts, economics is usually the biggest challenge to make landfill mining work.

“There’s virtually no way I can see how that makes money,” said Hoffman. “The commodity values would have to be at such higher levels than they are today for whatever it is you’re trying to get your hands on.”

Meanwhile, some experts argue that landfill mining can be profitable if done correctly by recovering more space for tipping fees.

“Many people are mining but they’re not reusing the space,” according to Sahadat Hossain, professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington. “If you do the operation right, you’re never going to be involved and it will always make you money.”

Landfill gas to energy

Modern chemistry has also allowed landfills to be mined for energy, using methane gas that is produced from decaying trash. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, landfill gas generates about 10.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. That’s enough to power roughly 810,000 homes and heat nearly 547,000 homes each year.

“The landfill gas operations that are known as low or medium DTU which are the predominant form of capturing the gas and turning it into electricity or steam and then selling it? Those are very good returns on capital projects,” Hoffman said.

While revenue from generating energy and fuel isn’t quite impressive, landfills that participate do benefit greatly from generous subsidies. The tipping fee, combined with various mining techniques and government subsidies have altogether transformed the landfill industry into a booming business.

The solid waste management industry will only continue to expand as long as there are those who view garbage as a resource rather than waste. Because when it comes to landfills, one man’s trash is quite literally another man’s treasure.

“Waste is not a waste, but it’s a resource,” emphasized Hossain. “World has limited resources. If we don’t reuse and recycle these, we cannot talk about a circular economy. That will always be a talk in the tabletop discussion.”

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Renault 5 already has 50K orders on its waitlist

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Renault 5 already has 50K orders on its waitlist

French automaker Renault is hoping it has a winner on its hands with the upcoming Renault 5 BEV, which the company says already has 50,000 orders on the waitlist just a few days after its debut at the Geneva Motor Show.

The new compact electric vehicle, which officially goes on sale in May in Europe, starts at €25,000, about $27,130, which is thousands of euros cheaper than most competitors. Built in Northern France, the retro-inspired vehicle is Renault’s first all-new small EV since the famous Zoe hit the scene in 2014.

“We have a waiting list of 50,000 people,” Renault brand CEO Fabrice Cambolive told Automotive News Europe. “We will open orders in May, and we’ll start to deliver cars in September or October.” He also added that in 2023, 50% of Renault’s sales were retail and 50% were fleet, so he is expecting that 40% of Renault 5 sales will be fleet as well.

Renault 5 electric

The 5 E-Tech will become available in three different electric motor configurations, offering 70 kW, 90 kW, or 110 kW of power, and its max battery size of 52 kWh will deliver a WLTP range of up to 400 km (249 miles). It can even tow a trailer with a capacity of up to 500kg. The Renault 5 will also be available with a smaller battery at 40 kWH, with a 300 km range, but Cambolive says that version will launch a few months after the larger one. Two color options include Pop Yellow and Pop Green, as well as more classic options.

The new version of the Renault 5, which debuted last week at the Geneva Motor Show, is set to rival the Fiat 500e and Mini Electric, targeting the trendy, upmarket driver of small EVs, putting it one step above in price point to Renault’s recently revealed Twingo.

Cambolive told Automotive News Europe that the brand aims to bring its Zoe drivers over to the Renault 5, but doesn’t see the car in direct competition to the Clio, the second-best-selling car in Europe last year, which is available in a hybrid version but not all-electric.  

Renault 5 electric

“The ICE cars we are selling are mostly full-hybrid, so they are very efficient,” he said. “Regarding our EV strategy, we are going to continue our progress on cutting costs and transfer some of the gains to the cost of the car to have more competitiveness in the future. But even more than that, after launching two EVs in the C-segment [the Scenic and Megane compacts], we will make the shift to EVs in the B-segment thanks to the Renault 5 and the Renault 4 [a small SUV due in 2025.] The biggest volumes in the shift will come in the B-segment.”

In January, Renault canceled its planned IPO for its EV spinoff Ampere. While the IPO was scheduled for the first part of this year with an expected valuation of up to €10 billion ($10.47 billion), Renault says that market conditions aren’t optimal to make the move. Still, Ampere is offering a total of seven models by 2031: the electric Mégane E-Tech, Scenic, R5 and R4, and the new low-cost Twingo, which should cost less than €20,000 ($22,000).

Last week, Renault confirmed that it is in talks with Volkswagen to build a BEV minicar for the European market.

Renault plans to go purely electric by 2030 – and with the French government holding a 15% stake in the company.


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BYD slashes price on its best-selling SUV to $16K to compete with gas cars

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BYD slashes price on its best-selling SUV to K to compete with gas cars

After recently reducing prices of its refreshed Han and Tang models, Build Your Dreams (BYD) just launched a new version of its top-selling EV Yuan Plus – known as the Atto 3 in overseas markets – to $16,644 in China, making it one of the lowest-priced EVs out there.

BYD has been targeting its home turf of China for its latest price-slashing strategy to continue its dominance in the world’s largest vehicle market, edging out both EV and ICE rivals with some of the lowest prices on EVs. The price war has already seen major deals on some of its best-selling EVs, with its brand-new Yuan Plus crossover now available at 11.8% cheaper than the final sale price of its predecessor, reports Reuters.

The Yuan Plus starts at 119,800 yuan ($16,644), BYD posted in Weibo. For comparison, the latest version of the Atto 3 in overseas markets starts in France at €46,690, or $50,650, which includes VAT. In Australia, the Atto 3 starts at $48,011 ($31,336), making that 85% higher than in China, Reuters reports.

For its newest update, the BYD Yuan Plus Honor Edition sees a few enhancements including a new black body color called Black Knight, with black chrome-plated rim. Dimensions are the same (4,455/1,875/1,615 mm) as the previous model with a wheelbase of 2,720 mm, so slightly smaller than a VW Tiguan. Its single electric motor is on the front axle for 150 kW and 310 Nm, and it’s powered by two LFP battery options from China’s FinDreams: 49.92 kWh for 430 km range and 60,48 kWH for 510 km range.

The vehicle is available in five trims, with the price of each trim reduced by 16,000 yuan ($2,200). That price puts the compact SUV at around the same price as ICE rivals including the Honda XR-V, the Buick Envision Plus, and the Volkswagen T-Cross.

Last year, BYD sold 412,202 Yuan Plus EVs, with 100,020 of them exported, or 42% of its total car exports for that year, data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers states.

Of course, outside of China, there is no sign yet that we can expect to see any of these deals (and of course, BYD doesn’t sell cars in the US, not yet anyway). In China, BYD dominates a market jammed with more than 94 brands offering more than 300 EV models, according to Counterpoint Research.

However, Geely and BYD are making the biggest impact outside of China, too, with BYD pushing international growth with its plans to build an EV factory in Hungary and Mexico, and other automakers are looking to set up production in Europe as well. Chinese companies MG and Chery have also been scouting sites in Mexico and talking to officials for better access to the North American market, actions which have set off alarm bells in Washington.


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The North Sea could become a ‘central storage camp’ for carbon waste. Not everyone likes the idea

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The North Sea could become a 'central storage camp' for carbon waste. Not everyone likes the idea

The receiving dock at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

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Norway’s government wants to show the world it is possible to safely inject and store carbon waste under the seabed, saying the North Sea could soon become a “central storage camp” for polluting industries across Europe.

Offshore carbon capture and storage (CCS) refers to a range of technologies that seek to capture carbon from high-emitting activities, transport it to a storage site and lock it away indefinitely under the seabed.

The oil and gas industry has long touted CCS as an effective tool in the fight against climate change and polluting industries are increasingly looking to offshore carbon storage as a way to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics, however, have warned about the long-term risks associated with permanently storing carbon beneath the seabed, while campaigners argue the technology represents “a new threat to the world’s oceans and a dangerous distraction from real progress on climate change.”

Norway’s Energy Minister Terje Aasland was bullish on the prospects of his country’s so-called Longship project, which he says will create a full, large-scale CCS value chain.

“I think it will prove to the world that this technology is important and available,” Aasland said via videoconference, referring to Longship’s CCS facility in the small coastal town of Brevik.

“I think the North Sea, where we can store CO2 permanently and safely, may be a central storage camp for several industries and countries and Europe,” he added.

Storage tanks at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

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Norway has a long history of carbon management. For nearly 30 years, it has captured and reinjected carbon from gas production into seabed formations on the Norwegian continental shelf.

It’s Sleipner and Snøhvit carbon management projects have been in operation since 1996 and 2008, respectively, and are often held up as proof of the technology’s viability. These facilities separate carbon from their respective produced gas, then compress and pipe the carbon and reinject it underground.

“We can see the increased interest in carbon capture storage as a solution and those who are skeptical to that kind of solution can come to Norway and see how we have done in at Sleipner and Snøhvit,” Norway’s Aasland said. “It’s several thousand meters under the seabed, it’s safe, it’s permanent and it’s a good way to tackle the climate emissions.”

Both Sleipner and Snøhvit projects incurred some teething problems, however, including interruptions during carbon injection.

Citing these issues in a research note last year, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a U.S.-based think tank, said that rather than serving as entirely successful models to be emulated and expanded, the problems “call into question the long-term technical and financial viability of the concept of reliable underground carbon storage.”

‘Overwhelming’ interest

Norway plans to develop the $2.6 billion Longship project in two phases. The first is designed to have an estimated storage capacity of 1.5 million metric tons of carbon annually over an operating period of 25 years — and carbon injections could start as early as next year. A possible second phase is predicted to have a capacity of 5 million tons of carbon.

Campaigners say that even with the planned second phase increasing the amount of carbon stored under the seabed by a substantial margin, “it remains a drop in the proverbial bucket.” Indeed, it is estimated that the carbon injected would amount to less than one-tenth of 1% of Europe’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels in 2021.

The government says Longship’s construction is “progressing well,” although Aasland conceded the project has been expensive.

“Every time we are bringing new technologies to the table and want to introduce it to the market, it is having high costs. So, this is the first of its kind, the next one will be cheaper and easier. We have learned a lot from the project and the development,” Aasland said.

“I think this will be quite a good project and we can show the world that it is possible to do it,” he added.

Workers at an entrance to the CO2 pipeline access tunnel at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

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A key component of Longship is the Northern Lights joint venture, a partnership between Norway’s state-backed oil and gas giant Equinor, Britain’s Shell and France’s TotalEnergies. The Northern Lights collaboration will manage the transport and storage part of Longship.

Børre Jacobsen, managing director for the Northern Lights Joint Venture, said it had received “overwhelming” interest in the project.

“There’s a long history of trying to get CCS going in one way or another in Norway and I think this culminated a few years ago in an attempt to learn from past successes — and not-so-big successes — to try and see how we can actually get CCS going,” Jacobsen told CNBC via videoconference.

Jacobsen said the North Sea was a typical example of a “huge basin” where there is a lot of storage potential, noting that offshore CCS has an advantage because no people live there.

A pier walkway at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

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“There is definitely a public acceptance risk to storing CO2 onshore. The technical solutions are very solid so any risk of leakage from these reservoirs is very small and can be managed but I think public perception is making it challenging to do this onshore,” Jacobsen said.

“And I think that is going to be the case to be honest which is why we are developing offshore storage,” he continued.

“Given the amount of CO2 that’s out there, I think it is very important that we recognize all potential storage. It shouldn’t actually matter, I think, where we store it. If the companies and the state that controls the area are OK with CO2 being stored on their continental shelves … it shouldn’t matter so much.”

Offshore carbon risks

A report published late last year by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based non-profit, found that offshore CCS is currently being pursued on an unprecedented scale.

As of mid-2023, companies and governments around the world had announced plans to construct more than 50 new offshore CCS projects, according to CIEL.

If built and operated as proposed, these projects would represent a 200-fold increase in the amount of carbon injected under the seafloor each year.

Nikki Reisch, director of the climate and energy program at CIEL, struck a somewhat cynical tone on the Norway proposition.

“Norway’s interpretation of the concept of a circular economy seems to say ‘we can both produce your problem, with fossil fuels, and solve it for you, with CCS,'” Reisch said.

“If you look closely under the hood at those projects, they’ve faced serious technical problems with the CO2 behaving in unanticipated ways. While they may not have had any reported leaks yet, there’s nothing to ensure that unpredictable behavior of the CO2 in a different location might not result in a rupture of the caprock or other release of the injected CO2.”

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