The Modern Age Technology to Recover Energy

Waste-to-energy is a cutting-edge method of waste disposal that is well known for lowering greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane, by removing emissions from landfills. Waste-to-Energy burns non-hazardous waste that would otherwise go to a landfill to produce steam for the creation of power. While processing ash to recover metal for recycling, all gases are gathered, filtered, and cleansed to reduce their negative effects on the environment. The main benefit of WTE is that it not only benefits the waste management industry as an effective ultimate disposal technique but also benefits the energy industry as a source of energy. Because we have the option to make the process carbon neutral by limiting incineration to waste material not sourced from fossil fuels, it is even more appealing as a source of renewable energy. From the standpoint of environmental effects, WTE outperforms landfilling in the waste management sector and coal- or oil-based energy production in the energy sector thanks to its carbon neutrality.

How Waste-to-Energy Facilities Operate?

Municipal solid waste (MSW), also known as garbage or trash, is burned at waste-to-energy facilities to create steam, which is then utilized to create power. MSW is a mixture of items with high energy content, including paper, plastic, yard waste, and wood-based products. About 85 pounds of MSW may be burned as fuel to produce electricity for every 100 pounds of MSW in the US. Waste-to-energy facilities cut the volume of waste by roughly 87% and turn 2,000 pounds of garbage to ash that weighs between 300 and 600 pounds.

Types of Waste-to-Energy Systems

  • Anaerobic Digestion: In this procedure, microbes decompose biomass without the presence of oxygen. The process helps in generating methane-rich biogas. This biogas is then utilized as a fuel source to create electricity majorly, and few other bio-products.
  • Gasification: Gasification has been utilized as a technique for centuries, but it has only recently been really used to treat garbage. It processes biomass at extremely high temperatures without burning, creating syngas, or combustible natural gas. The gas produced is then used as a source of fuel for different purposes.
  • Fermentation and Distillation: To make ethanol, biomass can be fermented and distilled. This ethanol is then utilized as an alternate fuel for vehicles as well in other devices. This can only be used for organic waste and other waste streams that are related, just like other WtE processes.

Disadvantages of Waste-to-Energy

  • One of the most prominent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is released when trash is burned for Waste-to-Energy, making up nearly all of the carbon content in the waste. Having said that, if the waste fuel is biomass, or of natural origin, such as food waste, paper and paperboard, wood, or natural fabrics like cotton, then the CO2 it contains was first taken from the atmosphere.
  • Cons of waste-to-energy include the possibility that it will discourage recycling or other environmentally friendly waste management practices. People, companies, or governments are less inclined to engage with or invest in more effective alternatives, such as reduction, reuse, or recycling, if they feel that waste-to-energy is a workable sustainable energy source and waste management approach.
  • The most frequent method of incineration for WtE is known as "mass-burn," in which MSW is burned in its entirety as opposed to being segregated. In turn, the WtE process has the potential to deplete resources like minerals, timber, polymers, and other materials that could have been recovered. This is especially true if municipal solid trash is not strictly separated before being burned.

Advantages of Waste-to-Energy

  • Better than Traditional Incineration: The wasteful incineration of the previous decades had some or the other way of generating wastes, however, with WtE, this is not so. Hence, very often WtE is promoted as ‘clean energy’ or ‘green energy’. By utilizing WtE processes, energy which otherwise would have been wasted, is being utilized, and hence does not technically enhances the amount of waste burned. Nowadays, most of the organizations are looking forward to adopt responsible smart waste management plans so as to have less damage, include more circular solutions, and thus, contribute less to climate change.
  • Lowers the Need for Landfilling: When it comes to waste management, landfills are the last option. Since 2018 till date, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered a volume of 146 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste that was sent to landfills. These landfills are known to cause bundle of issues, for instance, production of greenhouse gases (GHG), potential for pollutants to seep into the water available in the ground, wasting the resources available in large pieces of land, and more. At special incineration plants, waste-to-energy processes can lower the volume of these wastes that go into landfills. The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), stated that WtE plants can lower down the volume of waste by around 87%. This means that garbage worth 2000 pounds can be burnt down to ashes which would weight about 300-600 pounds.
  • Opportunities for Recovery of Resources: One of the major benefits of waste-to-energy process is that by utilizing this process, valuable resources, for instance metals that contain value, can be recovered post incineration. These recovered metals can then be sent for recycling. This process becomes more important for metals which are rare to find or have high value. The process of incineration burns away plastics and other related materials and leaves behind the metals. This, as a result, makes it easy to take out mixed metals, which are at times hard to recycle.

Waste-to-Energy in Europe

As per our analysis, more than 40% of the WtE technology is reported in Europe.

Owing to their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, waste-to-energy facilities in the European Union are not needed to have a permit or credits for CO2 emissions. With the European Union's attempts to replace the current landfills with WtE facilities, the European market is anticipated to grow exponentially over the course of the next ten years. In addition, there is a current movement away from the public sector's historic monopoly on the development of large-scale WtE projects. This would have an impact on the future of WtE because more competitors entering the market would likely result in lower prices and faster technological development. According to projections, the waste-to-energy industry in Europe t is anticipated to reach USD 25 billion by 2027. An increase in government programmes to support waste-to-energy projects and lower the emission of harmful gases is largely responsible for this growth. Waste-to-energy facilities abound in Europe. For instance, the 2013-built incinerator facility in Naples, Italy, has the capacity to burn 650,000 tonnes of garbage annually. Vartan, Aros, and Herning are only a few waste-to-energy facilities in Sweden and Denmark that produce more than 100 kW of power. Additionally, the United Kingdom has a gasification-based waste to energy facility in Manchester that has a 78,000 metric tonnes per year capacity and can process municipal solid waste, commercial trash, and industrial waste. As per recent data there is a chance to build 248 new waste-to-energy facilities in the EU and 330 across all of Europe.

Waste-to-Energy in Asia Pacific

The East Asia and Pacific region produce the majority of the world's trash which is estimated to be more than 20%. Japan presently has 380 WtE facilities across the country, and it is providing service packages that comprise garbage disposal equipment and knowledge of various elements of trash management, such as collection and separation. With the installation of WtE facilities, Vietnam, which currently produces an average of 70,000 tonnes of garbage per day, may generate up to one billion kWh in 2020 and six billion kWh in 2050, all from waste. Furthermore, for a variety of WtE plants, including incineration, gasification, fermentation, and landfill gas collection, the Thai government has provided subsidies and tax incentives.

Current and Future Scope of Waste-to-Energy:

The market for waste-to-energy is rapidly expanding as it involves generating energy from waste and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Furthermore, the expense of establishing incineration plants makes the, WtE conversion process expensive. Additionally, these trash incineration facilities can have a negative impact on the health of those who live nearby by causing respiratory disorders, anomalies in reproduction, a higher chance of cancer, and other health concerns. The global waste–to–energy (WtE) market is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 8%, reaching a market value of about USD 74 billion by the end of 2035. Owing to the increasing development of incineration and gasification technologies, as well as the rising volume of garbage produced, especially in the expanding nations of Asia-Pacific, thermal technology is predicted to dominate the waste-to-energy industry in the upcoming years. According to our research, over 60% of the Asia-Pacific WtE market for incineration is owned by Japan.



Undoubtedly, the benefits that come with waste-to-energy processes is larger than those waste management system processes associated with traditional landfilling or incineration. Although, the WtE process may not contribute to zero waste, and also may not be viable to a green, circular economy, yet, the opportunities associated with WtE would definitely promote the adoption of three Rs – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

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Swara Keni

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