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Pyrolysis in Southeast Asia: A Solution to Urban Waste Management Challenges

Pyrolysis in Southeast Asia: A Solution to Urban Waste Management Challenges

The Power is in Pyrolysis – Pyropower, HQ in the Netherlands


The Southeast Asia (SEA)-region is the most waste generating region globally, producing 23% of the world’s waste– and this number is expected to double by 2050. Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand are the countries that produce the most waste. What do they have in common? They are rapidly urbanizing nations where digital economies, purchasing power, and consumption rates are on the rise, with extreme growth of the middle class.

Rapid urbanization also brings along increased pressures on the urban waste systems. If not managed well, this could promote health and environmental crises. Organic waste and food waste constitute the majority of the problem, far greater than the often focused on plastics. Take Thailand, where, according to the country’s Pollution Control Department, 64% of the country’s municipal waste is food waste.

To date, city waste in SEA is mostly sent to sanitary landfill or openly dumped, polluting air and waterways. This effect is amplified by China’s bans (2018, 2021) on all imports of solid waste, resulting in extremely high pressure on SEA recycling systems.

For space-confined cities, landfills and open dumping is often no longer an option and the need for alternatives is especially high. Incineration converts waste to energy (WtE) and is a method used in various SEA countries. Singapore, recognized as one of the world’s leading smart cities, relies mostly on incineration for their waste management. However, incineration is only seen as the “lesser of evils” due to energy inefficiencies and the large amount of pollutant emissions. In addition, incineration has cascaded impacts on the environment and on the quality of urban life.

Is this the way forward for building future-proof smart cities?

Governments acknowledge the need for structural change and infrastructural development in preparation for explosive economic growth. This specifically includes the field of waste management. Considering urbanisation rates are expected to pass 70 percent by 2050, the waste crisis of SEA is only expected to worsen in upcoming years. What the SEA-region really needs are cost-effective, clean technologies for biomass utilization that support flourishing smart cities with higher living standards.


Pyrolysis technology is based on an ancient (>7000-year-old) technique used by Amazonian farmers to create a material that improves the fertility of the soil. In the 1950s, Dutch scientists discovered this “Terra Preta” or black earth in the soils of the Amazon Basin. Something we now know of as biochar – a charcoal-like, highly stable form of carbon.

Today, pyrolysis is used for waste treatment, energy generation, and the production of high-value carbonaceous materials. Pyrolysis is a thermal decomposition reaction that, under high temperatures and without oxygen, converts organic materials into gasses, oil and biochar. The gasses can be used for heat and electricity generation to power the technology. The fascinating characteristic of pyrolysis is that it, under the right circumstances, reduces the volume of waste up to 90%. In a smart city, this means more efficiently stored waste, and less urban pollution!

As an alternative energy source, pyrolysis emits significantly less CO2 emissions and toxic compounds (e.g., NOX, metals, dioxins) compared to incineration. This is due to the non-oxidative process and high temperatures that break down hazardous compounds. On top of that, it gives waste materials a second life.

Biochar – Promoting the Circular Economy Biochar’s potential goes beyond the long-known benefits for the soil, where it reduces the need for artificial fertilizers. Indeed, through its porous structure and chemical stability, biochar captures environmental toxins, pollutants, and excess nitrogen. It can also be used to filter polluted air and water. Lastly, biochar has shown promising applications in construction, agriculture, nature restoration and other applications integrated in a smart city such as the addition to 3D-filaments, batteries, and supercapacitors.

By recycling “waste” from one industry (e.g., food or fashion) and using it as a resource for another (e.g., the building sector), biochar promotes industrial symbiosis, enhancing the collaboration between various industries in a smart city.

The principle of pyrolysis has not changed since its first uses centuries ago, but the methods of implementing have. Today, pyrolysis introduces a sustainable alternative to waste management and energy generation. And biochar, truly has become a high-demand circular economy-based and carbon-negative material.

Carbon Credits One apparent hurdle for implementing clean waste management alternatives is a lack of financial resources allocated to this crisis. Through the generation of carbon credits (“offsets”), pyrolysis technology can properly incentivize public and private institutions in the SEA-region. Carbon accounting is an important means for measuring the impact on the environment. As pyrolysis technology and biochar application contribute to climate change mitigation in various ways, they can be eligible as carbon credit trading investments. The voluntary carbon credits market is expected to rise in the upcoming years, offering significant upside for SEA smart cities to benefit from this development.

All in all, SEA smart cities have the chance to lead the way in innovative waste management and nurture sustainable businesses. These can offer new employment opportunities and inspire neighboring regions.

All in all, SEA smart cities have the chance to lead the way in innovative waste management and nurture sustainable businesses. These can offer new employment opportunities and inspire neighboring regions.


Education and awareness are powerful tools to achieve a necessary consumer shift in urban waste management. However, safe technologies and tailored waste collection systems are essential for building the right foundation to aid the development of smart cities.

At Pyropower, we develop technology that is easy to use, safe and effective. We offer a completely new approach to waste management for the SEA region that comes with various benefits for people, the planet, and profit. Pyropower’s solution leverages innovative Dutch pyrolysis technology and focuses on three target areas of improvement: (1) a clean waste management process through carbon-negative pyrolysis technology, (2) the creation of high-value products such as biochar, and (3) the incorporation of carbon credits.

“We are guided by nature-based success and combine this with human-made technologies.”

Pyropower’s business model is centered around local smart city needs: we identify waste streams, build partnerships with local companies, and ultimately create self-sustaining circular economies.

The business strategy is adaptable to any region that produces biowaste. At Pyropower, we hope to leverage impactful social marketing along with innovative technology to bring attention to waste management in an attractive way to companies and the public.

To us, out-of-sight does not mean out-of-mind. We are here to deal with the uncomfortable, often forgotten, yet extremely important aspect of the success of - and quality of life in - smart cities.


ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: EVA ANNA EVERLOO Eva Anna Everloo is the Co-Founder & CEO of Pyropower.

Pyropower is a part of our Batch 3 Smart Cities Program in Thailand. To find out more about our programs in Thailand, click here.

Interested in joining our programs, click here.


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