Recycling waste into power and fuel

We are faced with a critical waste management problem, which is set to continue as we return to economic growth and rising industrial outputs. With landfill gate fees rising and space becoming exhausted, shipping truck-loads of waste to landfill sites is no longer a sustainable waste management solution for industry.

There is an urgent need to develop and deploy efficient waste management technologies as alternative treatment and disposal options become less viable. Much of the emphasis in government policy has been to encourage waste avoidance and reduction through increasing gate fees and recycling targets.  This focus on producing less waste, consuming less and recycling more is to be welcomed, but residual waste streams will continue to exist.  However, the residual waste that cannot be reused need not be a burden. With the right technology it can be viewed as a valuable resource.

Energy intensive users and heavy industry could reap the rewards of on-site waste to energy and fuels technologies that exist today.  Advanced gasification technologies deliver a highly efficient waste conversion process, a competitive source of energy and an effective zero waste solution, enabling companies to comply with a progressively challenging regulatory environment as well as acting on their corporate and social responsibility targets and insulating themselves from the gas markets, supply chains and their associated costs.

Advanced waste to energy and fuels technologies efficiently produce a very clean synthesis gas directly from industrial, commercial and municipal residual waste.  This syngas is suitable for further processing, making it the ideal solution for downstream applications in power, fuel and chemical production.  The more advanced technologies on the market today are highly efficient, with low emissions and no waste outputs meaning they can fit into compact warehouses. Thus, on-site conversion plants could enable industry to join the circular economy; using their own waste to generate heat power and fuels. With this technology slowly becoming a commercial reality, we are beginning to see a complete paradigm shift in waste management.

The fact that the industrial waste can be processed directly on-site means that plants are guaranteed to have a secure and abundant source of fuel, not just power and heat. There is an enormous potential for hydrogen users to benefit from on-site advanced conversion technologies, too. The price of converting syngas into hydrogen is lower than the cost of converting natural gas into hydrogen. The small amounts of sulphur, chlorine and ammonia compounds can be easily removed and the water gas shift reaction used to change hydrogen content. This means that in many cases the overall cost of using a waste to energy and fuels plant to generate hydrogen will be significantly lower and more predictable than the cost of using natural gas and steam reformation.

Several advanced conversion technology companies already have projects in the pipeline. For example, Advanced Plasma Power, a UK-based waste to energy technology plant, has been selected by the Energy Technologies Institute as one of three consortia that will compete to design the most cost-effective, economically viable and efficient commercial energy from waste demonstrator plant possible.

In the UK, Air Products is developing the world’s largest renewable energy plant on Teesside, which will use advanced conversion technology. Once commercialised, the facility will divert up to 350,000 metric tons of non-recyclable waste from landfill per year in addition to providing renewable power for nearly 50,000 homes.

The importance of waste as a resource for energy cannot be ignored, given its huge potential for industry and local communities alike. The ability of waste to energy technologies to provide fuel, heat, and power at both a macro and micro level will revolutionise waste management, as well as ensuring sustainable, local energy sources.



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