Pyrolysis of Municipal Wastes

Pyrolysis is rapidly developing biomass thermal conversion technology and has been garnering much attention worldwide due to its high efficiency and good eco-friendly performance characteristics. Pyrolysis technology provides an opportunity for the conversion of municipal solid wastes, agricultural residues, scrap tires, non-recyclable plastics etc into clean energy. It offers an attractive way of converting urban wastes into products which can be effectively used for the production of heat, electricity and chemicals.


Pyrolysis of Municipal Wastes

Pyrolysis process consists of both simultaneous and successive reactions when carbon-rich organic material is heated in a non-reactive atmosphere. Simply speaking, pyrolysis is the thermal degradation of organic materials in the absence of oxygen. Thermal decomposition of organic components in the waste stream starts at 350°C–550°C and goes up to 700°C–800°C in the absence of air/oxygen.

Pyrolysis of municipal wastes begins with mechanical preparation and separation of glass, metals and inert materials prior to processing the remaining waste in a pyrolysis reactor. The commonly used pyrolysis reactors are rotary kilns, rotary hearth furnaces, and fluidized bed furnaces. The process requires an external heat source to maintain the high temperature required.

Pyrolysis can be performed at relatively small-scale which may help in reducing transport and handling costs.  In pyrolysis of MSW, heat transfer is a critical area as the process is endothermic and sufficient heat transfer surface has to be provided to meet process heat requirements.

The main products obtained from pyrolysis of municipal wastes are a high calorific value gas (synthesis gas or syngas), a biofuel (bio oil or pyrolysis oil) and a solid residue (char). Depending on the final temperature, MSW pyrolysis will yield mainly solid residues at low temperatures, less than 4500C, when the heating rate is quite slow, and mainly gases at high temperatures, greater than 8000C, with rapid heating rates. At an intermediate temperature and under relatively high heating rates, the main product is a liquid fuel popularly known as bio oil.

Wide Range of Products

Bio oil is a dark brown liquid and can be upgraded to either engine fuel or through gasification processes to a syngas and then biodiesel. Pyrolysis oil may also be used as liquid fuel for diesel engines and gas turbines to generate electricity.

Bio oil is particularly attractive for co-firing because it can be relatively easy to handle and burn than solid fuel and is cheaper to transport and store. In addition, bio oil is also a vital source for a wide range of organic compounds and specialty chemicals.

Syngas is a mixture of energy-rich gases (combustible constituents include carbon monoxide, hydrogen, methane and a broad range of other VOCs). The net calorific value (NCV) of syngas is between 10 and 20MJ/Nm3. Syngas is cleaned to remove particulates, hydrocarbons, and soluble matter, and then combusted to generate electricity.

Diesel engines, gas turbines, steam turbines and boilers can be used directly to generate electricity and heat in CHP systems using syngas and pyrolysis oil. Syngas may also be used as a basic chemical in petrochemical and refining industries.

The solid residue from MSW pyrolysis, called char, is a combination of non-combustible materials and carbon. Char is almost pure carbon and can be used in the manufacture of activated carbon filtration media (for water treatment applications) or as an agricultural soil amendment.

Bioenergy Resources in MENA Countries

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region offers almost 45 percent of the world’s total energy potential from all renewable sources that can generate more than three times the world’s total power demand. Apart from solar and wind, MENA also has abundant bioenergy energy resources which have remained unexplored to a great extent.


Around the MENA region, pollution of the air and water from municipal, industrial and agricultural operations continues to grow.  The technological advancements in the biomass energy and waste-to-energy industry, coupled with the tremendous regional potential, promises to usher in a new era of energy as well as environmental security for the region.

The major biomass producing countries in MENA are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Traditionally, biomass energy has been widely used in rural areas for domestic purposes in the MENA region, especially in Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. Since most of the region is arid or semi-arid, the major bioenergy resources are municipal solid wastes, agricultural residues and organic industrial wastes.

Municipal solid wastes represent the best source of biomass in Middle East countries. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation. The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries is estimated at more than 150 million tons annually.

Food waste is the third-largest component of generated waste by weight which mostly ends up rotting in landfill and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The mushrooming of hotels, restaurants, fast-food joints and cafeterias in the region has resulted in the generation of huge quantities of food wastes.

In Middle East countries, huge quantity of sewage sludge is produced on daily basis which presents a serious problem due to its high treatment costs and risk to environment and human health. On an average, the rate of wastewater generation is 80-200 litres per person each day and sewage output is rising by 25 percent every year. According to estimates from the Drainage and Irrigation Department of Dubai Municipality, sewage generation in the Dubai increased from 50,000 m3 per day in 1981 to 400,000 m3 per day in 2006.

The food processing industry in MENA produces a large number of organic residues and by-products that can be used as biomass energy sources. In recent decades, the fast-growing food and beverage processing industry has remarkably increased in importance in major countries of the region. Since the early 1990s, the increased agricultural output stimulated an increase in fruit and vegetable canning as well as juice, beverage, and oil processing in countries like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

The MENA countries have strong animal population. The livestock sector, in particular sheep, goats and camels, plays an important role in the national economy of respective countries. Many millions of live ruminants are imported each year from around the world. In addition, the region has witnessed very rapid growth in the poultry sector. The biogas potential of animal manure can be harnessed both at small- and community-scale.

Charcoal Briquette Production in the Middle East: Perspectives

There is a huge demand for charcoal briquettes in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE. However the production of charcoal in the Middle East is in nascent stages despite the availability of biomass resources, especially date palm biomass. The key reason for increasing demand of charcoal briquettes is the large consumption of meat in the region which uses charcoal briquettes as fuel for barbecue, outdoor grills and related activities.

The raw materials for charcoal briquette production are widely available across the Middle East in the form of date palm biomass, crop wastes and woody biomass. With a population of date palm trees of 84 million or 70% of the world’s population, the potential biomass waste from date palm trees is estimated at 730,000 tons / year (approximately 200,000 tons from Saudi Arabia and 300,000 tons from Egypt). Date palm trees produce huge amount of agricultural wastes in the form of dry leaves, stems, pits, seeds etc. A typical date tree can generate as much as 20 kilograms of dry leaves per annum while date pits account for almost 10 percent of date fruits.

The fronds and trunks of date palm trees are potential raw materials for charcoal because of the potential to produce high calorific value and low ash content charcoal. Leaf waste will produce a low calorific value due to high ash content. In addition, woody biomass waste such as cotton stalks that are widely available in Egypt can also be a raw material for making charcoal. The contribution of the agricultural sector in Egypt is quite high at 13.4%.

Charcoal is compacted into briquettes for ease in handling, packaging, transportation and use. Briquettes can be made in different shapes such as oval, hexagonal, cube, cylinder or octagonal. An adhesive (called binder) is needed for the manufacture of the briquette. Two common binders are saw dust and corn starch.

Date palm biomass is an excellent resource for charcoal production in Middle East

Continuous pyrolysis is the best technology for charcoal production. Continuous pyrolysis has the ability to handle large biomass volumes, the process is fast and smoke production is negligible. When using conventional pyrolysis technology  (or batch carbonization), the process is lengthy, processing capacity is small and there are concerns related to harmful smoke emissions.

Apart from charcoal, continuous pyrolysis also gives bio oil, wood vinegar and syngas. Syngas can be converted into electricity by using a gas engine or converted into a wide variety of biofuels through different processes. Bio oil can be used as boiler fuel and marine fuel. Wood vinegar can be used as biopesticide and liquid organic fertilizer. Low water content in date palm waste fronds and trunks make it very suitable for thermochemical conversion technologies, especially pyrolysis and gasification.


Charcoal can also be used for the production of activated charcoal/carbon. Activated carbon is used by a lot of industries for purification processes. In addition, a number of industries that are using petcoke as fuel can switch to charcoal due to its better combustion properties and eco-friendly nature.

For more information on how to set up charcoal production plant based on date palm biomass or other crop residues in the Middle East, please email or

5 Interesting Facts About Waste-to-Energy Projects

Waste-to-energy (also known as energy-from-waste) is a complicated technology in the realm of renewable energy. There are a lot of hidden truths and myths about this technology that people need to be aware of. Renewable energy technologies, like solar and wind, have much more simple processes and gain most of the attention from media outlets.

On the converse, renewable energy sources that are highly complex like nuclear energy have a bunch of media attention as well.

So, why don’t we discuss a bit more about this relatively unknown technology and asset class? Here I’ll discuss a number of the most important facts about waste-to-energy (abbreviated as WTE).

Interesting Facts About Waste-to-Energy

Let’s get into our facts about waste-to-energy that you need to know.

1. Waste-to-Energy Can Provide Baseload Power

The most familiar renewable energy resources such as wind and solar can only provide power if the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. WTE projects can actually provide baseload power that is used to serve consumers and the grid no matter the time of day or if the sun is shining or not.

Baseload power is essentially when intermittent resources like solar and wind become more prevalent.

2. Not All WTE Projects are Clean and Green

While waste-to-energy projects would seem to be green and clean because they turn trash into power or gas. However, some projects require long hauling of trash to bring to the actual incineration facility. This actually ends up require much more emissions from the trash haulers than alternatives.

One solution to this would be to help promote the use of electric vehicles and electric vehicle technology to be installed in trucking, like waste hauling.

3. WTE Projects Can Reduce Use of Landfills

Landfills have increased at an exponential pace the in last 100 years. Waste-to-energy projects are an awesome alternative to landfills as the trash is used to provide electricity or fuel.

WTE projects reduce waste volumes by approximately 90%, which results in fewer landfills that are needed to process ash. This ends up protecting our natural resources and land in a dramatic fashion.

5. WTE Projects have Multiple Revenue Streams

Waste-to-energy projects are extremely complicated and expensive to build. Most of the investor economic interest is driven by financial incentives, renewable identification numbers, tax credits, etc. to help these projects get financed.

Beyond these other financial incentives, some of the waste-to-energy projects produce a byproduct, named biochar, which has multiple applications and fetches good prices. The biochar can usually end up providing the most value in the revenue stream or investability of the project itself.

In addition to other economic streams, waste-to-energy projects usually require high tipping fees. A tipping fee is what the trash hauler has to pay in order to dump the trash at the facility. With WTE projects, the tipping fee can end up being 50-60% of the overall revenue stack.

5. WTE Facilities are Net Greenhouse Gas Reducers

Methane has more than 20 times the potency of carbon dioxide and is ranked as a very dangerous contributor to climate change and warming of our planet. WTE facilities avoid the productions of methane and end up producing up to 10 times more the electricity than landfill gas projects. If you didn’t know, landfills can actually end up producing electricity by capture the methane gas and compressing it into a consumable natural gas for power.


Sweden is one of the best proponents of waste-to-energy in the world

WTE projects will usually have much more capacity than any landfill gas projects.


You can’t use waste-to-energy projects at your home similar to solar or even wind to get free electricity. However, knowing about projects in your area and the relevant suppliers will help you understand whether or not the technology is a perfect fit for your community. If you see a project coming online in your surrounding area, you should know how to ask the right questions.

At the end of the day, WTE projects are green and clean. They just need to have the right systems in place to make them more efficient and less risky to appeal new investor appetite. What fact was your favorite about waste-to-energy?

Do you know much about waste-to-energy projects? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

WTE Prospects in the Middle East

A combination of high fuel prices and a search for alternative technologies, combined with massive waste generation has led to countries in the Middle East region to consider Waste to Energy (or WtE) as a sustainable waste management strategy and cost-effective fuel source for the future. We look at the current state of the WtE market in the Middle East.


It is estimated that each person in the United Arab Emirates produces 2 kg of municipal solid waste per day – that puts the total waste production figure somewhere in the region of 150 million tonnes every year. Given that the population currently stands at over 9.4 million (2013) and is projected to see an annual average growth figure of 2.3% over the next six years, over three times the global average, it’s clear that this is a lot of waste to be disposed of.

In addition, the GCC nations in general rank in the bottom 10% of the sustainable nations in the world and are also amongst the top per capita carbon-releasers.

When we also consider that UAE are actively pursuing alternative energy technologies to supplement rapidly-decreasing and increasingly-costly traditional fossil fuels, mitigate the harmful effects of landfill, and reduce an ever-increasing carbon footprint, it becomes apparent that high on their list of proposed solutions is Waste to Energy (WtE). It could be an ideal solution to the problem.

What is WtE

Waste-to-Energy works on the simple principle of taking waste and turning it into a form of energy. This can be electricity, heat or transport fuels, and can be achieved in a variety of ways – the most common of which is incineration. MSW is taken to a WtE plant, incinerated at high temperatures and the resultant heat is used to boil water which creates steam to turn turbines, in the same way that burning gas or coal produces power. Gasification and anaerobic digestion are two further WtE methods which are also used.

However, WtE has several advantages over burning fossil fuels. Primarily amongst them are the potential to minimise landfill sites which have caused serious concern for many years. They are not only unsightly, but can also be contaminated, biologically or chemically. Toxic waste can leach into the ground beneath them and enter the water table.

Landfill sites also continuously emit carbon dioxide and methane, both harmful greenhouse gases – in addition methane is potentially explosive. Sending MSW to landfill also discourages recycling and necessitates more demand for raw materials. Finally, landfill sites are unpleasant places which attract vermin and flies and give off offensive odours.

Waste to Energy Around the World

WtE has been used successfully in many countries around the world for a long time now. Europe is the most enthusiastic proponent of WtE, with around 450 facilities; the Asia-Pacific region has just over 300; the USA has almost 100. In the rest of the world there are less than 30 facilities but this number is growing. Globally, it is estimated that the WtE industry is growing at approximately US $2 billion per annum and will be valued at around US $80 billion by the year 2022.


Waste-to-Energy is now widely accepted as a part of sustainable waste management strategy.

The USA ranks third in the world for the percentage of waste which is incinerated for energy production. Around 16% of the rubbish that America produces every day is burned in its WtE plants. Advocates claims the advantages are clear:

  • reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into the environment (estimates say that burning one ton of waste in a WtE plant saves between one half and one ton of greenhouse gases compared to landfill emissions, or the burning of conventional fuels),
  • freeing up land which would normally be used for landfill (and, therefore, extending the life of existing landfill sites),
  • encouraging recycling (some facilities have managed to reduce the amount of waste they process by up to 90% and the recycling of ferrous and non-ferrous metals provides an additional income source), and,
  • most importantly, producing a revenue stream from the sale of the electricity generated.

In one small county alone, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a population of just over half-a-million people, more than 4.4 billion kWh of electricity has been produced through WtE in the last 20 years. This has generated over USD $256 million through its sale to local residents.

Waste-to-Energy in the Middle East

Given WtE’s potential to not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution on a local scale, but also to produce much-needed electricity in the region, what is the current state of affairs in the Middle East. There are several WtE initiatives already underway in the Middle East.

Qatar was the first GCC country to implement a waste-to-energy programme and currently generates over 30MW of electricity from its Domestic Solid Waste Management Center (DSWMC) located at Messeid (Doha). Saudi Arabia and the UAE have both stated that they have WtE production capacity targets of 100MW. Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman are also seriously considering waste-to-energy as a means to tackle the worsening waste management problem.

Abu Dhabi’s government is currently spending around US $850 million to build a 100 MW plant which is expected to be operational by 2017 and which will supply around 20,000 households with electricity. In Sharjah, the world’s largest household waste gasification plant, costing in excess of US $480 million, is due to be open in 2015.

However, not all the GCC members are as enthusiastic about WtE. Dubai’s government has recently scrapped plans for a US $2 billion project which would have made use of the 7,800 tonnes of domestic waste which is produced in Dubai every single day.

We asked Salman Zafar, Founder of Doha-based EcoMENA, a popular sustainability advocacy, why given the sheer scale of the waste in the Gulf region, the production of this form of energy is still in its infancy. “The main deterrent in the implementation of WtE projects in the Middle East is the current availability of cheap sources of energy already available, especially in the GCC,” he commented.

Salman Zafar further says, “WtE projects demand a good deal of investment, heavy government subsidies, tipping fees, power purchase agreements etc, which are hard to obtain for such projects in the region.” “The absence of a sustainable waste management strategy in Middle East nations is also a vital factor behind the very slow pace of growth of the WtE sector in the region. Regional governments, municipalities and local SWM companies find it easier and cost-effective to dump untreated municipal waste in landfills,” he added.

So, how can WtE contribute towards the region’s growing power demand in the future?

“Modern WtE technologies, such as RDF-based incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion etc, all have the ability to transform power demand as well as the waste management scenario in the region,” he continued. “A typical 250 – 300 tons per day WtE plant can produce around 3 – 4 MW of electricity and a network of such plants in cities across the region can make a real difference in the energy sector as well as augmenting energy reserves in the Middle East. In fact, WtE plants also produce a tremendous about of heat energy which can be utilised in process industries, further maximising their usefulness,” Salman Zafar concluded.

New technologies naturally take time to become established as their efficiency versus cost ratios are analysed. However, it is becoming increasingly clearer that waste-to-energy is a viable and efficient method for solid waste management and generation of alternative energy in the Middle East.

Biogas from Slaughterhouse Wastes

Slaughterhouse waste (or abattoir waste) disposal has been a major environmental challenge in all parts of the world. The chemical properties of slaughterhouse wastes are similar to that of municipal sewage, however the former is highly concentrated wastewater with 45% soluble and 55% suspended organic composition. Blood has a very high COD of around 375,000 mg/L and is one of the major dissolved pollutants in slaughterhouse wastewater.


In most of the developing countries, there is no organized strategy for disposal of solid as well as liquid wastes generated in abattoirs. The solid slaughterhouse waste is collected and dumped in landfills or open areas while the liquid waste is sent to municipal sewerage system or water bodies, thus endangering public health as well as terrestrial and aquatic life. Wastewater from slaughterhouses is known to cause an increase in the BOD, COD, total solids, pH, temperature and turbidity, and may even cause deoxygenation of water bodies.

Anaerobic Digestion of Slaughterhouse Wastes

There are several methods for beneficial use of slaughterhouse wastes including biogas generation, fertilizer production and utilization as animal feed. Anaerobic digestion is one of the best options for slaughterhouse waste management which will lead to production of energy-rich biogas, reduction in GHGs emissions and effective pollution control in abattoirs.

Anaerobic digestion can achieve a high degree of COD and BOD removal from slaughterhouse effluent at a significantly lower cost than comparable aerobic systems. The biogas potential of slaughterhouse waste is higher than animal manure, and reported to be in the range of 120-160 m3 biogas per ton of wastes. However the C:N ratio of slaughterhouse waste is quite low (4:1) which demands its co-digestion with high C:N substrates like animal manure, food waste, crop residues, poultry litter etc.

Slaughterhouse effluent has high COD, high BOD, and high moisture content which make it well-suited to anaerobic digestion process. Slaughterhouse wastewater also contains high concentrations of suspended organic solids including pieces of fat, grease, hair, feathers, manure, grit, and undigested feed which will contribute the slowly biodegradable of organic matter. Amongst anaerobic treatment processes, the up-flow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) process is widely used in developing countries for biogas production from abattoir wastes.

Slaughterhouse waste is a protein-rich substrate and may result in sulfide formation during anaerobic degradation. The increased concentration of sulfides in the digester can lead to higher concentrations of hydrogen sulfide in the biogas which may inhibit methanogens. In addition to sulfides, ammonia is also formed during the anaerobic digestion process which may increase the pH in the digester (>8.0) which can be growth limiting for some VFA-consuming methanogens.

Energy from Biomass Wastes in MENA

The high volatility in oil prices in the recent past and the resulting turbulence in energy markets has compelled many MENA countries, especially the non-oil producers, to look for alternate sources of energy, for both economic and environmental reasons. The significance of renewable energy has been increasing rapidly worldwide due to its potential to mitigate climate change, to foster sustainable development in poor communities, and augment energy security and supply.

The MENA region is well-poised for biomass waste-to-energy development, with its rich feedstock base in the form of municipal solid wastes, crop residues and agro-industrial wastes. The high rate of population growth, urbanization and economic expansion in the Middle East is not only accelerating consumption rates but also accelerating the generation of a wide variety of waste.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita waste generation. The gross urban waste generation quantity from Arab countries is estimated at more than 80 million tons annually. Open dumping is the most prevalent mode of municipal solid waste disposal in most countries.


Many Middle East nations lack legislative framework and regulations to deal with urban wastes.

Biomass wastes-to-energy technologies hold the potential to create renewable energy from biomass waste in the MENA region. Besides recovery of substantial energy, these technologies can lead to a substantial reduction in the overall waste quantities requiring final disposal, which can be better managed for safe disposal in a controlled manner. Energy from biomass wastes can contribute substantially to GHG mitigation in the Middle East through both reductions of fossil carbon emissions and long-term storage of carbon in biomass wastes.

Biomass waste-to-energy systems options offer significant, cost-effective and perpetual opportunities for greenhouse gas emission reductions. Additional benefits offered are employment creation in rural areas, reduction of a country’s dependency on imported energy carriers (and the related improvement of the balance of trade), better waste control, and potentially benign effects with regard to biodiversity, desertification, recreational value, etc.

In summary, waste-to-energy can significantly contribute to sustainable development both in developed and less developed countries. Waste-to-energy is not only a solution to reduce the volume of waste that is and provide a supplemental energy source, but also yields a number of social benefits that cannot easily be quantified.

Biomass wastes in MENA can be efficiently converted into energy and fuels by biochemical and thermal conversion technologies, such as anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis. Waste-to-energy technologies hold the potential to create renewable energy from waste matter.

The implementation of waste-to-energy technologies as a method for safe disposal of solid and liquid biomass wastes, and as an attractive option to generate heat, power and fuels, can significantly reduce environmental impacts of wastes in the MENA region. In fact, energy recovery from MSW is rapidly gaining worldwide recognition as the fourth ‘R’ in sustainable waste management system – Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and Recover.

A transition from conventional waste management system to one based on sustainable practices is necessary to address environmental concerns and to foster sustainable development in the region.

Thermal Conversion of Tannery Wastes

Tanneries generate considerable quantities of sludge, shavings, trimmings, hair, buffing dusts and other general wastes and can consist of up to 70% of hide weight processed. Thermal conversion technologies by virtue of chemically reducing conditions, provides a viable alternative thermal treatment for tannery wastes, especially for chrome containing materials, and generates a chrome (III) containing ash. This ash has significant commercial value as it can be reconstituted.


All of the wastes generated by the tannery can be gasified following pre-treatment methods such as maceration, drying and subsequent densification or briquetting. A combined drying and gasification process could eliminate solid waste, whilst providing a combustible gas as a tax-exempt renewable energy source, which the tannery can directly reuse. Gasification trials have illustrated that up to 70% of the intrinsic energy value of the wastes currently disposed can be recovered as “synthesis gas” energy.

Gasification technology has the potential to provide significant cost benefits in terms of power generation and waste disposal, and increase sustainability within the leather industry. The gasification process converts any carbon-containing material into a combustible gas comprised primarily of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane, which can be used as a fuel to generate electricity and heat.

A wide range of tannery wastes can be macerated, flash dried, densified and gasified to generate a clean syngas for reuse in boilers or other Combined Heat and Power systems. As a result up to 70% of the intrinsic energy value of the waste can be recovered as syngas, with up to 60% of this being surplus to process drying requirements so can be recovered for on-site boiler or thermal energy recovery uses.

A proprietary technology has been in commercial operation at a tanyard on the West Coast of Norway since mid 2001. The process employs gasification-and-plasma-cracking and offer the capability of turning the tannery waste problem to a valorising source that may add values to the plant owner in terms of excessive energy and ferrochrome, a harmless alloy that is widely used by the metallurgical industry. The process leaves no ashes but a non-leaching slag that is useful for civil engineering works, and, hence, no residues for landfill disposal

Energy Potential of Palm Kernel Shells

The Palm Oil industry in Southeast Asia and Africa generates large quantity of biomass wastes whose disposal is a challenging task. Palm kernel shells (or PKS) are the shell fractions left after the nut has been removed after crushing in the Palm Oil mill. Kernel shells are a fibrous material and can be easily handled in bulk directly from the product line to the end use. Large and small shell fractions are mixed with dust-like fractions and small fibres. Moisture content in kernel shells is low compared to other biomass residues with different sources suggesting values between 11% and 13%.


Palm kernel shells contain residues of Palm Oil, which accounts for its slightly higher heating value than average lignocellulosic biomass. Compared to other residues from the industry, it is a good quality biomass fuel with uniform size distribution, easy handling, easy crushing, and limited biological activity due to low moisture content. PKS can be readily co-fired with coal in grate fired -and fluidized bed boilers as well as cement kilns in order to diversify the fuel mix.

The primary use of palm kernel shells is as a boiler fuel supplementing the fibre which is used as primary fuel. In recent years kernel shells are sold as alternative fuel around the world. Besides selling shells in bulk, there are companies that produce fuel briquettes from shells which may include partial carbonisation of the material to improve the combustion characteristics.

As a raw material for fuel briquettes, palm shells are reported to have the same calorific characteristics as coconut shells. The relatively smaller size makes it easier to carbonise for mass production, and its resulting palm shell charcoal can be pressed into a heat efficient biomass briquette.

Palm kernel shells have been traditionally used as solid fuels for steam boilers in palm oil mills across Southeast Asia. The steam generated is used to run turbines for electricity production. These two solid fuels alone are able to generate more than enough energy to meet the energy demands of a palm oil mill. Most palm oil mills in the region are self-sufficient in terms of energy by making use of kernel shells and mesocarp fibers in cogeneration.

In recent years, the demand for palm kernel shells has increased considerably in Europe, Asia-Pacific, China etc resulting in price close to that of coal. Nowadays, cement industries and power producers are increasingly using palm kernel shells to replace coal. In grate-fired boiler systems, fluidized-bed boiler systems and cement kilns, palm kernel shells are an excellent fuel.

Cofiring of PKS yields added value for power plants and cement kilns, because the fuel significantly reduces carbon emissions – this added value can be expressed in the form of renewable energy certificates, carbon credits, etc. However, there is a great scope for introduction of high-efficiency cogeneration systems in the industry which will result in substantial supply of excess power to the public grid and supply of surplus PKS to other nations. Palm kernel shell is already extensively in demand domestically by local industries for meeting process heating requirements, thus creating supply shortages in the market.

Palm oil mills around the world may seize an opportunity to supply electricity for its surrounding plantation areas using palm kernel shells, empty fruit branches and palm oil mill effluent which have not been fully exploited yet. This new business will be beneficial for all parties, increase the profitability and sustainability for palm oil industry, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the electrification ratio in surrounding plantation regions.

Obstacles in Implementation of Waste-to-Energy

The biggest obstacle to the implementation of Waste-to-Energy lies not in the technology itself but in the acceptance of citizens. Citizens who are environmentally minded but lack awareness of the current status of MSW-to-energy bring up concerns of environmental justice and organize around this. They view WTE as ‘dumping’ of pollutants on lower strata of society and their emotional critique rooted in the hope for environmental justice tends to move democracy.


An advocate of public understanding of science, Shawn Lawrence Otto regrets that the facts are not able to hold the same sway. Some US liberal groups such as the Center for American Progress are beginning to realize that the times and science have changed. It will take more consensus on the science and the go ahead from environmental groups before the conversation moves forward, seemingly improbable but not without precedent.

Spittelau Waste-to-Energy Plant

The Spittelau waste-to-energy plant is an example of opposition coming together in consensus over WTE. It was built in Vienna in 1971 with the purpose of addressing district heating and waste management issues. Much later awareness of the risks of dioxins emitted by such plants grew and the people’s faith in the technology was called into question.

It also became a political issue whereby opposition parties challenged the mayor on the suitability of the plant. The economic interests of landfill owners also lay in the shutting down of the WTE facility. The alternative was to retrofit the same plant with advanced technology that would remove the dioxins through Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR).

Through public discussions it appeared that the majority of the people were against the plant altogether though thorough studies by informed researchers showed that the science backs WTE. The mayor, Helmut Zilk eventually consulted Green Party members on how to make this technology better perceived in the eyes of the people, and asked the famous Austrian artist Freidensreich Hundertwasser, who was a green party member to design the look of the plant.

Freidensreich Hundertwasser after carefully studying the subject wrote a letter of support, stating his belief as to why WTE was needed and accepted Mayor Helmut Zilk’s request. Later public opinion polls showed that there were a majority of people who were either in favor of or not opinionated about the plant, with only 3% in outright opposition of the plant.

Polarized Discussion

Waste-to-Energy or recycling has kept public discourse from questioning whether there may not be intermediate or case specific solutions. This polarization serves to move the conversation nowhere. For now it can be agreed that landfills are devastating in their contribution to Climate Change and must be done away with. The choice then, of treatment processes for municipal solid waste are plentiful. If after recovery of recyclable materials there remains a sizeable waste stream the option of waste-to-energy can be explored.

Primary Considerations

  • Environmental implications (i.e. CO2 emissions vis-à-vis the next best fuel source) given the composition of the local waste stream. If the waste stream consists of a high percentage of recyclables the more sustainable waste strategy would be to ramp up recycling efforts rather than to adopt WTE,
  • Likely composition and variation of the waste stream and the feasibility of the technology to handle such a waste stream,
  • Financial considerations with regards to the revenue stream from the WTE facility and its long term viability,
  • Efforts at making citizens aware of the high standards achieved by this technology in order to secure their approval.

Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link