Waste to energy – a clean solution to a growing problem

Waste to Energy, W2E

The sprawling city of Shenzhen in northern China has a population of over 20 million people and creates around 15,000 metric tons of waste every day. No surprise, perhaps, that it’s the site of what will be, when it’s operational, the world’s largest waste-to-energy plantto date.

Waste-to-energy technology turns urban waste into fuel. Incineration of waste products generates heat, which is used to drive a turbine and so generate electricity. While it’s true that the process of incineration causes CO2 emissions, the architects of the Shenzhen East Waste-to-Energy Plant claim this occurs at just half the level of an average landfill site.

The enormous plant is built in an innovative circular design and utilizes advanced waste incineration and power generation technology. When operational, in 2020, it will be able to process 5,000 metric tons of waste per day and – as a by-product – is expected to generate 50 million kWh of electricity per year. It is a clean solution to a growing problem.

The plant will have a secondary function as a place of education. Entry will be via a landscaped park that leads to a visitors’ center, giving an overview of the machinery. A guided tour via a circular walkway will explain each process, and ultimately lead up to the roof, from where a spectacular view of the city and the surrounding landscape can be enjoyed.

World Bank figures indicate that China generates more waste than any other country, but many countries worldwide are having to tackle similar challenges. UN predictions put the world’s population at 9.8 billion people by 2050, and so technology that efficiently removes urban waste while generating energy – such as our own BT Advanced Gasification solution– can be desirable to investors. Interest in such technologies is growing, and the World Energy Council estimates that the global market will be worth in the region of $40 billion by 2023.

Is trash the answer to our energy problems?

Waste2Energy

Across the world, the waste produced by our societies is largely seen as a problem – but could it instead be an opportunity? Increasingly, waste-to-energy solutions are being deployed to convert trash into renewable energy that can be far cleaner than the average power generated through traditional energy production technologies.

Yet while waste-to-energy processing has been fairly widely adopted in Europe – with almost 500 waste-to-energy facilities in operation across the continent – uptake in the United States has been less progressive. According to BioEnergy Consult, there are currently only 86 municipal waste-to-energy facilities across 25 states for the purpose of energy recovery and, perhaps more significantly, the last new facility opened in 1995. So what is behind the apparent resistance to this renewable energy resource in the US?

One reason for the lack of adoption of waste-to-energy facilities in the US is, quite simply, budget. Construction of such renewable energy plants traditionally exceed $100 million, with larger plants far exceeding that figure, and many corporate and public entities are unwilling to make that kind of investment into technologies that may not provide sufficiently swift or large returns on the initial investment. This trend can also be confirmed in other sectors such as traditional energy production or roads infrastructure, paving the way, at least in the energy sector, for more efficient and adaptable newcomers. Clean Energy Enterprises’ BLUE Tower solution is available in small sizes, greatly reducing implementation cost, waste volume and the amount of land required to house it, making it the perfect solution to the US waste and energy crises. 

Simultaneously, the growing importance of the energy smart grid facilitates the emergence of distributed, point-of-use energy production solutions such as the BLUE Tower. 

According to an article in Scientific American, deploying waste-to-energy facilities nationwide could reduce waste volumes by up to 90 percent, with the remaining 10 percent mostly rendered to inert ash if properly incinerated. 

The BLUE Tower waste to energy solution efficiently reduces waste volumes and produces a hydrogen-rich gas. Hydrogen is recognized worldwide as a solution to heavy duty transportation, where batteries take too long to be charged, or cannot provide enough range. Passenger vehicle manufacturers are also actively developing models, Toyota and Honda being the most prominent among them, each with several thousand vehicles on the road.

At Clean Energy Enterprises, we are dedicated to trash remediation and delivering effective and efficient renewable energy solutions, including advanced waste-to-energy gasification technologies to convert waste into hydrogen fuel with minimal emissions.

Innovative ways to convert waste to energy

Waste to energy solutions

As the international community increasingly recognizes the importance of sustainable energy as a vital element of protecting our environment, government and energy industry policy makers alike are turning their eyes to waste-to-energy solutions. Unlike some industry buzzwords and phrases, the meaning of “waste-to-energy” is obvious – technologies that convert unwanted waste materials into energy in the form of electricity or heat. Some waste-to-energy processes also result in the efficient production of hydrogen, oil and other fuels. Here are some of the innovative processes businesses are utilizing to generate sustainable energy from waste.

  1. Gasification: This is one of the more popular thermal waste-to-energy technologies, converting low-value organic or fossil-fuel based materials into hydrogen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Gasification can be used to generate electricity, and to produce fuels and fertilizers that reduce dependence upon oil imports and natural gas.
  • Thermal depolymerization: Depolymerization uses pressure and heat to reduce complex organic materials – including biomass and plastics – to light crude oil in a method that mimics the processes involved in the natural production of fossil fuels. The process can also safely remove any heavy metals in the waste material by converting them into stable oxides.
  • Pyrolysis: This is an oxygen-free process that is particularly useful in processing drained sludges, including sewage. Like gasification and depolymerization, this is a thermal process. It can process biomass to produce heat, steam and electricity as well as biochar – which can be used as a fertilizer and soil amender – and synthetic gas (syngas).
  • Fermentation: A non-thermal waste-to-energy method, fermentation involves breaking down organic matter using processes including hydrolysis and distillation to produce ethanol from biomass. Ethanol can be blended with gasoline for use as fuel.
  • Anaerobic digestion: This is a non-thermal process of producing sustainable energy in which microorganisms break down organic matter in airtight containers in the absence of oxygen. The products of anaerobic digestion have a number of applications, including power generation, vehicle fuel and cooking gas.

At Clean Energy Enterprises, we understand the challenges of sustainable energy production in the 21st century, but also how these challenges can be surmounted by smart application of the technologies available. Our own BLUE Tower Clean Energy system is based on a proven advanced waste-to-energy gasification technology to convert biomass and other forms of organic waste into renewable hydrogen for transportation, with virtually zero emissions. Contact us for more information about Clean Energy Enterprises or to propose a waste to energy technology.