Can Trash Be Converted Into Energy?

Posted by Larry Burton on Sep 16, 2020 11:00:00 AM

Can trash be converted into energy? Yes, and this safe disposal option is significantly changing the way companies are managing their hazardous waste.  

Waste to energy embraces many of the same principles as traditional recycling, with the goal of keeping materials out of landfills and in continual use. In manufacturing, the waste to energy process turns chemical energy into thermal energy by turning solid waste into gas.  

Each year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste is generated in the United States. As many companies move toward embracing more sustainable practices, they’re looking at whether waste to energy is something that can benefit both their companies and the environment.  

Below we’ll explore how trash is converted into energy through the waste to energy process, and why you should consider turning your trash into treasure.

 

How Does Waste To Energy Work?

 

can-waste-be-converted-into-energyWaste to energy can work several different ways. The most common process is through the incineration of waste. During incineration at waste to energy plants, chemical energy transforms into thermal energy, and organics collected from waste are thermally destroyed at extremely high temperatures.  

With the term, “incineration,” comes questions about how this process can be environmentally beneficial, however. Federal regulations work to ensure toxic smoke is not emitted during the waste to energy process through stringent emissions standards at plants.  

In fact, stack output must meet a nearly 100% purity standard. In this case, instead of smoke, plants that perform the waste to energy process emit clean water vapor.  

Although incineration is the most common waste to energy process, there are several other types of systems available. However, many of these systems are designed for specific industries or for specific purposes. 

  • Depolymerization: This process breaks down waste materials into crude oil products using thermal decomposition. 
  • Gasification: This process converts carbonaceous substances into carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and small amounts of hydrogen. The goal is to use the synthesis gas that is created to produce electrical and heat sources. 
  • Pyrolysis: This process generates electricity and heat by subjecting organic or agricultural waste to elevated temperatures to create an oil that is renewable and can be used as industrial fuel. 

While the waste to energy process can certainly enhance the sustainability of a company’s waste management efforts, is there a way to take those sustainability efforts to the next level? Yes, by embracing principles of the circular economy.

 

Embracing The Circular Economy

 

What is the circular economy? The circular economy is a business model that is designed to be regenerative by removing waste and pollution out of a system while keeping products and materials in use.  

Today, many companies still continue to operate under a take-make-dispose approach. This linear economic business model hurts growth because companies face unpredictable raw material prices and increased costs due to a strain on resources.  

By incorporating a make-use-return approach into your business model, you can help keep materials and products in use indefinitely, easing the burden on natural resources.  

But what does the circular economy have to do with converting trash into energy?  

The waste to energy process plays an important role in creating a closed loop recycling system. And while some companies rely only on waste to energy technology to safely dispose of their waste, Temarry Recycling uses this technology to take sustainability one step further.

 

How Temarry Uses Waste To Energy As Part of Their Circular Economy

 

At Temarry Recycling’s state-of-the-art facility, the energy generated on site is used to power solvent recovery stills. Combining this solvent distillation process with the waste to energy process creates a closed loop system that is restorative and regenerative. 

True-Closed-Loop-Recycling-Process

Here’s how it works...

Waste To Energy 

The waste to energy process begins the loop. Organic solids with >5000 BTU are converted to steam. Waste is fed by a conveyor into the primary stage for thermal destruction at 1500 degrees F. All vapors and gases are then directed to secondary thermal treatment at 1500 degrees F. 

Inorganic solids, or ash, from the primary stage is quenched and falls into an ash hopper. Heat is then directed to a 200-horsepower steam generator. The remaining gases are directed to a modern two-stage venturi scrubber to ensure that only clean water vapor is emitted into the atmosphere.

Solvent Distillation 

Next is the solvent distillation process. Using the steam from the waste to energy process as energy to power the recovery stills, spent solvents are re-manufactured. 

What is a solvent? A solvent is a molecule that has the ability to dissolve other molecules, known as solutes. The molecules of the solvent work to pull the solute molecules apart. Eventually, the molecules of the solute become evenly distributed throughout the solvent.  

This homogeneous mixture is perfectly even and cannot be separated physically. Heat or another chemical process must be applied to the solution to separate the solvent and solute.  

This solvent distillation process achieves this. Solvent distillation allows solvents to be sold back into industry for their original solvent properties.

Water Treatment

Finally, a water treatment process is needed to close the loop. The water treatment process extracts usable water from industrial hazardous wastes. In turn, treated water is used on site for industrial needs, including the waste to energy equipment and a cooling tower. 

 

What Are The Benefits Of Waste To Energy?

 

There are several benefits to taking advantage of waste to energy, especially when incorporated into a circular economic model.  

Any time a company’s waste management is enhanced, other areas of the operation can benefit. For example, more efficient operations often translate into reduced costs, and conserving resources often means reducing your reliance on those same natural resources. 

California companies can also take advantage of economic incentives through grant, payment and loan programs. The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) offers several funding opportunities to help companies with improving the sustainability of their waste stream management. 

Finally, your company can even reduce its carbon footprint by taking advantage of waste to energy, especially when it is combined with closed loop recycling. Businesses that partner with companies like Temarry (the only Closed Loop Recycling facility serving the western United States) will see a reduction in the amount of truck loads that are transported off site for secondary recycling at a cement kiln. 

The proof is in the numbers: 

  • For every 60 cubic yards boxes thermally treated on site at Temarry, one cubic yard of ash is generated.
  • For each 100 gallons of typical solvents distilled, 30 gallons of still bottoms are generated to blend with ash.

 The fewer truck loads, the fewer fossil fuel resources will be used for transportation.

 

Long-Term Solutions

 

Waste to energy is an important part of a safe disposal option that is changing the way companies view their hazardous waste and what happens to it once it leaves their facilities.  

By adopting the same principles of recycling and enhancing the waste to energy process by making it part of a closed loop recycling solution, manufacturing companies can invest in both themselves and the environment.

 

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