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2. Waste-to-Energy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Spittelau incineration plant is one of several plants that provides district heating in Vienna.

Waste-to-energy (WtE) or energy-from-waste (EfW) is the process of creating energy in the form of electricity or heat from the incineration of waste source. WtE is a form of energy recovery. Most WtE processes produce electricity directly through combustion, or produce a combustible fuel commodity, such as methane, methanol, ethanol or synthetic fuels.


Incineration, the combustion of organic material such as waste with energy recovery is the most common WtE implementation. Incineration may also be implemented without energy and materials recovery; however, this is increasingly being banned in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.[citation needed] Furthermore, all new WtE plants in OECD countries must meet strict emission standards.[citation needed] Hence, modern incineration plants are vastly different from the old types, some of which neither recovered energy nor materials. Modern incinerators reduce the volume of the original waste by 95-96 %, depending upon composition and degree of recovery of materials such as metals from the ash for recycling.[2]

Concerns regarding the operation of incinerators include fine particulate, heavy metals, trace dioxin and acid gas emissions, even though these emissions are relatively low[3] from modern incinerators. Other concerns include toxic fly ash and incinerator bottom ash (IBA) management.[citation needed] Discussions regarding waste resource ethics include the opinion that incinerators destroy valuable resources and the fear that they may reduce the incentives for recycling and waste minimization activities.[citation needed] Incinerators have electric efficiencies on the order of 14-28%.[citation needed] The rest of the energy can be utilized for e.g. district heating, but is otherwise lost as waste heat.

The method of using incineration to convert municipal solid waste (MSW) to energy is a relatively old method of waste-to-energy production. Incineration generally entails burning garbage to boil water which powers steam generators that make electric energy to be used in our homes and businesses. One serious problem associated with incinerating MSW to make electrical energy, is the pollutants that are put into the atmosphere when burning the garbage that power the generators. These pollutants are extremely acidic and have been reported to cause serious environmental damage by turning rain into acid rain. One way that this problem has been significantly reduced is through the use of lime scrubbers on smokestacks. The limestone mineral used in these scrubbers has a pH of approximately 8 which means it is a base. By passing the smoke through the lime scrubbers, any acids that may be in the smoke are neutralized which prevents the acid from reaching the atmosphere and hurting our environment. (Field) According to the New York Times, modern incineration plants are so clean that "many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration."[4]

WtE technologies other than incineration

There are a number of other new and emerging technologies that are able to produce energy from waste and other fuels without direct combustion. Many of these technologies have the potential to produce more electric power from the same amount of fuel than would be possible by direct combustion. This is mainly due to the separation of corrosive components (ash) from the converted fuel, thereby allowing higher combustion temperatures in e.g. boilers, gas turbines, internal combustion engines, fuel cells. Some are able to efficiently convert the energy into liquid or gaseous fuels:

Thermal technologies:

Non-thermal technologies:

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