The waste to energy process turns chemical energy into thermal energy by turning solid waste into gas.
Though not thought of as traditional recycling, waste to energy embraces the same principles. The process takes a collection of materials that would have normally gone to landfills and remanufactures it for another purpose.
But how does waste to energy work? Are there different types of waste to energy processes? And, which one is the most effective?
Below we’ll explore the answers to these questions, as well as how waste to energy contributes to a circular economy that compounds the benefits of this process.
Types of Waste To Energy
The most frequently used waste to energy process occurs when a facility incinerates waste in an effort to turn solid waste into a gas. During this process, chemical energy transforms into thermal energy. Organics collected from waste are burned, or thermally destructed, at very high temperatures.
These types of waste to energy facilities are scattered across the United States, and according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, generated nearly 14 billion kilowatt hours of electricity through burning nearly 30 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2018.
While waste incineration is the most commonly used method for waste to energy, other technologies are used as well that also produce energy.
Here’s what the processes are and how they work:
- This process breaks down waste materials into crude oil products.
- Depolymerization uses thermal decomposition, which takes materials and subjects them to high temperatures and pressure while in the presence of water.
- Long chain polymers are broken down into shorter chains.
- This mimics a natural geological process that produces fossil fuels.
- This process converts carbonaceous substances into carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and small amounts of hydrogen.
- Gasification subjects materials to high temperatures, in the presence of oxygen.
- Synthesis gas that is created is then used to produce a source of heat and electricity.
- This process subjects organic or agricultural waste to elevated temperatures.
- Pyrolysis, however, does not use oxygen or halogen.
- During this process, a solid, liquid or gas can be produced.
- Pyrolysis oil is used to generate heat and electricity as a renewable industrial fuel, or upgraded into a specialty chemical or transportation fuel.
Plasma Arc Gasification:
- Plasma arc gasification process compresses the waste.
- This process produces a gas that is then ionized using a plasma torch.
- Plasma arc gasification does not use combustion.
- It reduces how much waste is sent to landfills, while also generating electricity.
Waste To Energy’s Role In A Circular Economy
A circular economy focuses on eliminating waste and reducing the act of using valuable resources unnecessarily. This focus creates what is known as a closed loop recycling system that promotes the continuous repurposing of materials in an effort to keep these materials in circulation, out of landfills and at highest continued value.
Waste to energy plays an important role in the closed loop recycling of waste.
At Temarry Recycling, the closed loop recycling process takes an existing physical product, industrial solvents, and recycles it with useful waste byproduct. This is done through waste to energy, solvent distillation and water treatment.
The waste to energy process converts high BTU organic solids to steam to be used as energy on-site.
The solvent distillation process then uses the steam from the waste to energy process as energy to power the recovery stills. Spent solvents are re-manufactured and sold back into industry for their original solvent properties.
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.
You can read more about how these three processes work together to create a closed loop recycling system in our article, What Is Closed Loop Recycling?
Benefits Of Waste To Energy
Waste to energy provides a clean energy source. Though the process of incineration is often thought to include plumes of black smoke, federal regulations impose emission standards that require stack output to meet a nearly 100% purity standard.
In other words, waste to energy emits clean water vapor - not toxic smoke.
When part of a closed loop recycling system, the benefits of waste to energy compound.
Nothing is wasted. The waste to energy process, when part of a closed loop recycling system, uses and reuses all components. All recycled solvents are reintroduced back into industry.
Sustainable companies have an advantage. In addition to benefiting from an improved image, companies that utilize waste to energy resources experience a diminished carbon footprint and are ahead of the curve when it comes to staying on top of government and industry regulations.
Costs are reduced. While many companies worry that incorporating waste to energy into their waste stream management will eat into profits, sustainable business, on the other hand, create more efficient operations and in the long run are more cost effective. Ultimately, this reduces costs.
In California, companies can also take advantage of economic incentives through grant, payment and loan programs. These programs reward businesses that reduce their environmental impacts.
What It Means
Manufacturing companies continue to look for ways to increase their corporate sustainability. Waste to energy is a process by which thermal energy is created using waste, offering companies the opportunity to re-manufacture and keep materials at their highest value.
When combined with a closed loop recycling system, the benefits are endless and long-lasting. Want to read more about the waste to energy process? Our article, How Do You Turn Waste Into Energy?, explores the innovative technologies waste to energy plants are using to create a more sustainable environment.