One’s Trash is Another’s Treasure: How Taiwan Cube Energy Turns Waste into Power

Last November, Taiwan Cube Energy (TCE), Taiwan’s first privately invested enterprise specializing in renewable energy derived from solid recovered fuels (SRF), broke ground on its initial project in Taiwan, an industrial waste-to-energy (WtE) plant in Taoyuan. Once construction of the plant is completed in 2025, the company forecasts that it will be capable of converting around 150,000 metric tons of SRF into up to 160 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy per year – the approximate amount of power consumed by more than 5,000 families.

With backing from I Squared Capital, a global infrastructure investor based in the U.S., TCE seeks to fill a particular niche in Taiwan’s efforts to transform its energy mix, increase renewables production, and reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels. The company not only contributes to renewable power generation, but its WtE model also helps with addressing Taiwan’s lack of sufficient industrial waste-handling capacity, also known as the island’s “sixth shortage” (the other five being land, water, power, labor, and professional talent). According to Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration, the total amount of industrial waste reported in 2020 exceeded 20 million metric tons, including 3 million metric tons of renewable resources.

“In the past, many countries including Taiwan would send their recycled high-calorific waste abroad to the Philippines, Indonesia, China, and other destinations,” says John Cheng, TCE’s chief executive officer. “But since those countries have begun refusing to import that waste, Taiwan’s government and manufacturers are now faced with the tough challenge of how to dispose of it. Our mission is to help industry overcome this issue, as well as to assist the Taiwan government reach its goals of boosting renewable energy production and developing a circular economy.”

While Taiwan has one of the highest densities of waste-to-energy plants in the world, many of these existing facilities are more than 20 years old and mainly handle municipal solid waste from households and businesses. The advanced technology that will be employed at TCE’s Taoyuan plant, on the other hand, exclusively burns SRFs produced domestically from the high-calorific industrial waste of Taiwan’s manufacturing sector. In addition, the plant will produce less carbon emissions and pollution than other thermal energy sources such as coal and will have a WtE conversion efficiency of nearly 28%, much higher than the 18-21% of traditional incinerators.

Another benefit of WtE is its relatively high power density compared to other renewable energy sources. “Unlike solar and wind power, which are subject to environmental changes and can suffer from intermittency, energy produced from SRFs is more reliable and can provide more energy per unit of land,” says Cheng. “Our Taoyuan WtE plant will be capable of a steady output of 20MW of power generation capacity for energy users.” 

Beyond its main purposes of environmental protection and power generation, TCE’s Taoyuan plant will have a number of additional positive benefits for Taiwan’s economy. Once operational, the NT$5 billion investment is expected to create more than 100 employment opportunities and upwards of NT$100 million in annual GDP. The company says it will prioritize hiring talent from Taoyuan in order to promote development of the local economy and create a mutually beneficial, win-win scenario.

In the future, Cheng says, TCE hopes to expand into the collection, production, and transportation of SRFs to fuel its Taoyuan plant, as well as engage in more projects to promote Taiwan’s circular economy. He adds that the company will continue to cooperate with the Taiwan government’s energy and environmental policies, contribute to its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and cultivate the island as a producer of renewable power. Moreover, it will devote its full energy to supporting the development of Taiwan’s green energy-related infrastructure and deepening the economic partnership between Taiwan and the U.S.