ESA title

Waste to Energy

  • Activity Kick-start Activity
  • Opening date 18-03-2024
  • Closing date 03-05-2024
  • WEBINAR 14 March 2024 - 11:00 CET Register


This opportunity provides funding to European teams who would like to develop a service related to the Waste to Energy (WtE) value chain. Funding will be provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) for 6-month projects called ‘Kick-Starts’, which can lead to larger scale Demonstration Projects and Feasibility Studies. Kick-Starts are 75% funded by ESA up to a maximum of €60K per contract. Proposed services must use satellite data or space-based technologies. Please see the ‘Authorisation of Funding’ section below to check whether your team is eligible for funding.


According to the Asian Development Bank, approximately 2.01 billion tons of municipal waste were generated in 2016, and at least 33% of this waste was openly dumped. This is predicted to reach 3.4 billion tons by 2050. Uncontrolled waste disposal leads to 

  • heavy metal pollution of soil
  • atmospheric emission of harmful gases
  • the release of contaminants into the water cycle

These all pose serious health risks and environmental degradation, especially  in developing economies where unsustainable management of waste is common practice.

Waste frameworks such as the EU Directive on Waste and non-EU frameworks such as the Waste Management Plan for England and the Norwegian White Paper on the Circular Economy promote sensible behaviours and business processes for reusing and recycling goods and aim to prevent waste generation. However, current technology means that not all waste can be prevented as circular waste management systems have not yet matured.
Even if targets for a circular economy are achieved, some materials will still reach their end-of-life. Therefore, additional processes and tools must be established to deal with residual waste streams.

In this context, Waste to Energy (WtE) provides an end-of-life process for resources which generates energy in the form of electricity from heat and/or combustible products such as biogas. This can be a solution to address waste management once the preferred prevention methods are exhausted. WtE is a key enabler of a circular economy and, if efficient low carbon WtE processes are used, provides a convenient solution to environmental pollution and energy production. For instance, the EU Directive on Waste separates carbon-intensive WtE processes from environmentally-sustainable ones and considers open burning and waste incineration as last-resort options, only to be   used when more environmentally-favourable outcomes are not possible.

Sustainable and effective WtE processes have the potential to contribute to synergies in three EU policies: 

  • waste management
  • energy
  • environmental (climate change)

These are vital for  EU Member States to meet their targets. More generally, WtE opportunities are flourishing in Europe; the Waste Management Plan for England states: “To deliver net zero virtually all heat will need to be decarbonised and heat networks will form a vital component of this. Energy from waste has a role to play in supplying this heat…”

Effective and sustainable management of WtE requires a holistic approach which can be achieved by integrating circular economy principles. Some materials may be able to be  upcycled, recycled, or reused. WtE must not be considered in isolation, as it is a component of the circular economy ‒ not the solution.


The following relevant topics were identified for this Kick-start Theme, along with examples of potential applications which could be proposed.


Before any WtE project or enterprise can start, stakeholders will need to assess the economic viability and impact of a proposed project on the local and regional economy, as well as the potential environmental and social impacts.
Strong input supply chains which will contribute to sustainable WtE ventures can be created by:

  • identifying domestic sources of waste feedstock
  • identifying commercial/industrial sellers
  • accurate price discovery of waste feedstock 

.The longevity of a WtE project depends on the strength of the input of waste feedstock, which is often a key barrier to success.

Examples of potential services:

  • The economic viability planning of WtE plants leveraged by Earth observation (EO) data coupled with AI/ML to define waste availability, in particular waste catchments
  • Services that analyse satellite imagery to indicate existing waste management capacity and / or infrastructure in a region that could be leveraged for a WtE project

As well as economic viability, industrial experts and research institutions who have expertise on WtE technologies, and who work with governments to undertake feasibility studies and environmental impact assessments will often consider the environmental and societal impacts. This is an important first step to consider, given that private organisations will often form private-public partnerships (PPP), where governments will fund the project and the private body will engage in the construction and implementation. 

Examples of potential services:

  • Services leveraging Earth observation (EO) to assist in environmental impact assessments during the feasibility study stages of a WtE project, for example, to model the path of flue exhaust gas based on wind direction averages
  • Quantifying environmental benefits of a WtE project by monitoring existing pollution of a landfill from above


Modern industrial monitoring systems enabled by digitisation technologies provide invaluable insights into daily operations, as well as the tools to improve productivity and environmental sustainability. When applied to WtE projects, these systems can be used to:

  • predict energy generation
  • track waste materials
  • ensure compliance with environmental regulations

Municipalities handling waste collection are a prime customer for this application area, as well as companies that are contracted to operate WtE plants through private-public partnerships.

Examples of potential services:

  • scheduling efficient pickups from homes or commercial premises using avigation services
  • services leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) devices to collect and share data on generation predictions with local grid operators using real-time communication services to ensure the correct level of energy supply to the grid
  • IoT services to monitor carbon emissions and ensure compliance with environmental regulations
  • services that analyse materials using IoT sensors to measure qualities such as the colour, size, and shape of waste to assist in waste pre-processing
  • by leveraging the use of space assets with other technologies such as RFID, blockchain & IoT sensors, it is possible to improve facilities’ inventory management, fostering transparency of the process and facilitating efficient sales


Landfilling is the least desirable outcome of waste management, as it is contrary to the ‘closed loop’ concept of the circular economy. Using WtE approaches, old landfills can be re-contextualised as future mines for materials with energy potential. Waste feedstock from landfill is already widely available at low , (and in some cases, negative) prices. It is doubly advantageous to mine landfills given that the global warming potential can be very high as a result of methane release, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfills also pollute the immediate surrounding environment with heavy metals and other pollutants, which pose a threat to the environment and human health. 

Examples of potential services:

  • SatEO images can be combined with UAV data to transmit real-time very-high resolution data from landfills. Monitoring multiple materials by leveraging the use of IoT sensors at landfill level can provide a large amount of historical data which could be transmitted to different stakeholders in the waste management value chain
  • Using remote sensing imagery such as Sentinel-5P, it is possible to detect landfill sources of methane emissions. These landfills can then either be adapted to capture methane or selected for landfill mining and tracking illegal waste management

It has been demonstrated that the landfill cleanup can be supported by extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes, which are policy approaches to extend a producer’s responsibility well beyond the post-consumer stage of a product life cycle. The success of these schemes is based on adding the waste management cost to materials prior to the sale of a product. EPR funds have then been used to assist in the environmental cleanup of landfills and, in some cases, resulted in net-positive revenue from energy generation via WtE plants.

Examples of potential services:

  • for EPR funds, it is possible to authenticate payments to landfill miners, verified using blockchain technology, following landfill mining for WtE plants. This makes it  possible to allocate costs accurately and distribute revenue to maximise the value of waste supply chain for WtE projects, which can have a positive impact on profitability


There are many opportunities to use space assets and to integrate them with other technologies for the above topics. A (non-exhaustive) list of examples can be found below:

Satellite Earth Observation (SatEO)
SatEO has significant use cases for WtE projects. Using landcover datasets, such as those derived from Sentinel-2, it is possible to identify waste sources and existing waste facilities. Identification can be improved using artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques. Similarly, landcover can be used to characterise the potential energy demand and/or buyers, including industrial parks. On the other hand, SatEO has applications in detecting emissions from landfill using Sentinel-5P atmospheric datasets, which can be either mined for materials or contained to capture methane.

Satellite Communications (SatCom)
The use of SatCom enables WtE actors to be notified about waste levels per household or per community collection centre. This can be leveraged by RFID and IoT devices integrated into waste disposal bins, which can be used to schedule waste pickup efficiently. Using these technologies, it is also possible to measure the type of waste (measurements of pH, temperature, gas sensors etc) to delineate the type of pickup required. IoT sensors placed in landfill areas can also transmit data via satcom and alert  dangerous leaking. Moreover, IoT has applications in monitoring emissions from WtE to predict energy emissions, based on the heterogeneity of the material, which can help avoid under or overgeneration. This use case also has value in monitoring unwanted emissions. Similarly, IoT sensors can be used to speed up and automate the homogenisation of waste using measurements of size, shape and colour to determine waste types.

Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)
The use of GNSS is relevant for scheduling waste pickups efficiently. It is possible to use this in conjunction with artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to plan routes to pickup locations intelligently. GNSS can also be used in conjunction with RFID technology to track by-products derived from WtE projects for clearer inventory management and transparency with buyers. GNSS is essential for drones that monitor landfill areas to detect anomalies which can create overflows and affect contiguous areas (urban, industrial, and natural areas).


Kick-Start activities explore the business opportunity and the technical viability of new applications and services that exploit one or more space assets (e.g. Satellite Communications, Satellite Navigation, Earth Observation, Human Spaceflight Technology). 
This call for Kick-Start activities is dedicated to the theme of ‘Waste to Energy’, which means that the call is open to companies that intend to develop space-enabled applications and services relating to the digitalisation and sustainability of the waste to energy value chain, mostly in Europe but also beyond.


  1. Register your team on esa-star (this provides for the minimum ‘light registration’). 
  2. Download the official tender documents from esa-star when the opportunity opens. This includes: a letter of invitation proposal, template, draft contract and additional information about this opportunity
  3. Prepare your proposal using the official tender documents and reach out to your National Delegation to obtain a Letter of Authorisation.

Submit your proposal via esa-star tendering by the deadline.


ESA Space Solutions can provide funding to carry out Kick-Start activities to any company (economic operator) residing in the following Member States: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and United Kingdom.

Germany, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom have pre-authorised the funding to this call. Contact details of each national delegate can be found here.

Kick-Start activities are 75% funded by the European Space Agency up to a maximum of €60K per contract.



A webinar is planned for 14 March 12024, 11:00 – 12:00 CET. Please use the button at the top of page to register.

Webinar speakers: Dermot McKeever from Power for Planet Ltd. and Fabio Poretti from CEWEP.