Waste-to-Energy in India: An Interview with Salman Zafar

waste-mountainIndia’s waste-to-energy sector, which kicked off in 1987, is still searching for a successful role model, even after tens of millions of dollars of investment. In recent years, many ambitious waste-to-energy projects have been established or are being planned in different parts of the country, and it is hoped that things will brighten up in the coming years. Salman Zafar, CEO of BioEnergy Consult, talks to Power Today magazine on India’s tryst with waste-to-energy and highlights major challenges and obstacles in making waste-to-energy a success story in India.

Power Today: What are the challenges that the Waste to Energy sector faces in the current scenario where there is a rejuvenated interest in clean energy? Do you think the buzz around solar and wind power has relegated the Waste to Energy sector to the back benches?

Salman Zafar: India’s experience with waste-to-energy has been lackluster until now. The progress of waste-to-energy sector in India is hampered by multiples issues including

  1. poor quality of municipal waste,
  2. high capital and O&M costs of waste-to-energy systems,
  3. lack of indigenous technology,
  4. lack of successful projects and failure of several ambitious projects,
  5. lack of coordination between municipalities, state and central governments,
  6. heavy reliance on government subsidies,
  7. difficulties in obtaining long-term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with state electricity boards (SEBs)
  8. lukewarm response of banks and financial institutions and (9) weak supply chain.

Waste-to-energy is different from solar (or wind) as it essentially aims to reduce the colossal amount of solid wastes accumulating in cities and towns all over India. In addition to managing wastes, waste-to-energy has the added advantage of producing power which can be used to meet rapidly increasing energy requirements of urban India. In my opinion, waste-to-energy sector has attracted renewed interest in the last couple of years due to Swachch Bharat Mission, though government’s heavy focus on solar power has impacted the development of waste-to-energy as well as biomass energy sectors.

Power Today: India has a Waste to Energy potential of 17,000 MW, of which only around 1,365 MW has been realised so far. How much growth do you expect in the sector?

Salman Zafar: As per Energy Statistics 2015 (refer to http://mospi.nic.in/Mospi_New/upload/Energy_stats_2015_26mar15.pdf), waste-to-energy potential in India is estimated to be 2,556 MW, of which approximately 150 MW (around 6%) has been harnessed till March 2016.

The progress of waste-to-energy sector in India is dependent on resolution of MSW supply chain issues, better understanding of waste management practices, lowering of technology costs and flexible financial model. For the next two years, I am anticipating an increase of around 75-100 MW of installed capacity across India.

Power Today: On the technological front, what kinds of advancements are happening in the sector?

Salman Zafar: Nowadays, advanced thermal technologies like MBT, thermal depolymerisation, gasification, pyrolysis and plasma gasification are hogging limelight, mainly due to better energy efficiency, high conversion rates and less emissions. Incineration is still the most popular waste-to-energy technology, though there are serious emission concerns in developing countries as many project developers try to cut down costs by going for less efficient air pollution control system.

Power Today: What according to you, is the general sentiment towards setting up of Waste to Energy plants? Do you get enough cooperation from municipal bodies, since setting up of plants involves land acquisition and capital expenditure?

Salman Zafar: Waste-to-energy projects, be it in India or any other developing country, is plagued by NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) effect. The general attitude towards waste-to-energy is that of indifference resulting in lukewarm public participation and community engagement in such projects.

Government should setup dedicated waste-to-energy research centres to develop lost-cost and low-tech waste to energy solutions

Government should setup dedicated waste-to-energy research centres to develop lost-cost and low-tech waste to energy solutions

Lack of cooperation from municipalities is a major factor in sluggish growth of waste-to-energy sector in India. It has been observed that sometimes municipal officials connive with local politicians and ‘garbage mafia’ to create hurdles in waste collection and waste transport. Supply of poor quality feedstock to waste-to-energy plants by municipal bodies has led to failure of several high-profile projects, such as 6 MW MSW-to-biogas project in Lucknow, which was shut down within a year of commissioning due to waste quality issues.

Power Today: Do you think that government policies are in tandem when it comes to enabling this segment? What policies need to be changed, evolved or adopted to boost this sector?

Salman Zafar: A successful waste management strategy demands an integrated approach where recycling and waste-to-energy are given due importance in government policies. Government should strive to setup a dedicated waste-to-energy research centre to develop a lost-cost and low-tech solution to harness clean energy from millions of tons of waste generated in India.

The government is planning many waste-to-energy projects in different cities in the coming years which may help in easing the waste situation to a certain extent. However, government policies should be inclined towards inclusive waste management, whereby the informal recycling community is not robbed of its livelihood due to waste-to-energy projects.

Government should also try to create favourable policies for establishment of decentralized waste-to-energy plants as big projects are a logistical nightmare and more prone to failure than small-to-medium scale venture.

Note: This interview was originally published in June 2016 edition of Power Today magazine. The unabridged version is available at this link

Waste-to-Energy in China: Perspectives

China is the world’s largest MSW generator, producing as much as 175 million tons of waste every year. With a current population surpassing 1.37 billion and exponential trends in waste output expected to continue, it is estimated that China’s cities will need to develop an additional hundreds of landfills and waste-to-energy plants to tackle the growing waste management crisis.

garbage-china

China’s three primary methods for municipal waste management are landfills, incineration, and composting. Nevertheless, the poor standards and conditions they operate in have made waste management facilities generally inefficient and unsustainable. For example, discharge of leachate into the soil and water bodies is a common feature of landfills in China. Although incineration is considered to be better than landfills and have grown in popularity over the years, high levels of toxic emissions have made MSW incineration plants a cause of concern for public health and environment protection.

Prevalent Issues

Salman Zafar, a renowned waste management, waste-to-energy and bioenergy expert was interviewed to discuss waste opportunities in China. As Mr. Zafar commented on the current problems with these three primary methods of waste management used by most developing countries, he said, “Landfills in developing countries, like China and India, are synonymous with huge waste dumps which are characterized by rotting waste, spontaneous fires, toxic emissions and presence of rag-pickers, birds, animals and insects etc.” Similarly, he commented that as cities are expanding rapidly worldwide, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find land for siting new landfills.

On incineration, Zafar asserted that this type of waste management method has also become a controversial issue due to emission concerns and high technology costs, especially in developing countries. Many developers try to cut down costs by going for less efficient air pollution control systems”. Mr. Zafar’s words are evident in the concerns reflected in much of the data ­that waste management practices in China are often poorly monitored and fraudulent, for which data on emission controls and environmental protection is often elusive.

Similarly, given that management of MSW involves the collection, transportation, treatment and disposal of waste, Zafar explains why composting has also such a small number relative to landfills for countries like China. He says, “Composting is a difficult proposition for developing countries due to absence of source-segregation. Organic fraction of MSW is usually mixed with all sorts of waste including plastics, metals, healthcare wastes and industrial waste which results in poor quality of compost and a real risk of introduction of heavy metals into agricultural soils.” Given that China’s recycling sector has not yet developed to match market opportunities, even current treatment of MSW calls for the need of professionalization and institutionalization of the secondary materials industry.

While MSW availability is not an issue associated with the potential of the resource given its dispersion throughout the country and its exponential increase throughout, around 50 percent of the studies analyzed stated concerns for the high moisture content and low caloric value of waste in China, making it unattractive for WTE processes.

Talking about how this issue can be dealt with, Mr. Zafar commented that a plausible option to increase the calorific value of MSW is to mix it with agricultural residues or wood wastes. Thus, the biomass resources identified in most of the studies as having the greatest potential are not only valuable individually but can also be processed together for further benefits.

Top Challenges

Among the major challenges on the other hand, were insufficient or elusive data, poor infrastructure, informal waste collection systems and the lack of laws and regulations in China for the industry. Other challenges included market risk, the lack of economic incentives and the high costs associated with biomass technologies. Nevertheless, given that the most recurring challenges cited across the data were related to infrastructure and laws and regulations, it is evident that China’s biomass policy is in extreme need of reform.

China’s unsustainable management of waste and its underutilized potential of MSW feedstock for energy and fuel production need urgent policy reform for the industry to develop. Like Mr. Zafar says, “Sustainable waste management demands an integration of waste reduction, waste reuse, waste recycling, and energy recovery from waste and landfilling. It is essential that China implements an integrated solid waste management strategy to tackle the growing waste crisis”.

Future Perspectives

China’s government will play a key role in this integrated solid waste management strategy. Besides increased cooperation efforts between the national government and local governments to encourage investments in solid waste management from the private sector and foster domestic recycling practices, first, there is a clear need to establish specialized regulatory agencies (beyond the responsibilities of the State Environmental Protection Administration and the Ministry of Commerce) that can provide clearer operating standards for current WTE facilities (like sanitary landfills and incinerators) as well as improve the supervision of them.

It is essential that China implements an integrated solid waste management strategy to tackle the growing waste crisis

It is essential that China implements an integrated solid waste management strategy to tackle the growing waste crisis

Without clear legal responsibility assigned to specialized agencies, pollutant emissions and regulations related to waste volumes and operating conditions may continue to be disregarded. Similarly, better regulation in MSW management for efficient waste collection and separation is needed to incentivize recycling at the individual level by local residents in every city. Recycling after all is complementary to waste-to-energy, and like Salman Zafar explains, countries with the highest recycling rates also have the best MSW to energy systems (like Germany and Sweden).

Nevertheless, without a market for reused materials, recycling will take longer to become a common practice in China. As Chinese authorities will not be able to stop the waste stream from growing but can reduce the rate of growth, the government’s role in promoting waste management for energy production and recovery is of extreme importance.

Moving Grate Incineration: Preferred WTE Technology

Incineration is the most popular waste treatment method that transforms waste materials into useful energy. The incineration process converts waste into ash, flue gas, and heat. The type of thermal WTE technology most commonly used worldwide for municipal solid waste is the moving grate incineration. These moving grate incinerators are even sometimes referred to as as the Municipal Solid Waste Incinerators (MSWIs).

As of August 2013, of more than 1000 of 1200 Waste-to-Energy plants (among 40 different countries) there is no pre-treatment of the MSW before it is combusted using a moving grate. The hot combustion gases are commonly used in boilers to create steam that can be utilized for electricity production. The excess energy that can’t be used for electricity can possibly be used for industrial purposes, such as desalination or district heating/cooling.

moving-grate_incinerator

Benefits of Moving Grate Incineration

The moving grate incineration technology is lenient in that it doesn’t need prior MSW sorting or shredding and can accommodate large quantities and variations of MSW composition and calorific value. With over 100 years of operation experience, the moving grate incineration system has a long track record of operation for mixed MSW treatment. Between 2003 and 2011, it was reported that at least 106 moving grate incineration plants were built worldwide for MSW treatment. Currently, it is the main thermal treatment used for mixed MSW.

Compared to other thermal treatment technologies, the unit capacity and plant capacity of the moving grate incineration system is the highest, ranging from 10 to 920 tpd and 20 to 4,300 tpd. This system is able to operate 8,000 hours per year with one scheduled stop for inspection and maintenance of a duration of roughly one month. Today, the moving grate incineration system is the only treatment type which has been proven to be capable of treating over 3,000 tpd of mixed MSW without requiring any pretreatment steps. Being composed of six lines of furnace, one of the world’s largest moving grate incineration plants has a capacity of 4,300 tpd and was installed in Singapore by Mitsubishi in 2000

Working Principle

Moving-grate incineration requires that the grate be able to move the waste from the combustion chamber to allow for an effective and complete combustion. A single incineration plant is able to process thirty-five metric tons of waste per hour of treatment.

The MSW for a moving grate incinerator does not require pretreatment. For this reason, it is easier to process large variations and quantities. Most of these incineration plants have hydraulic feeders to feed as-received MSW to the combustion chamber (a moving grate that burns the material), a boiler to recover heat, an air pollution control system to clean toxins in the flus gas, and discharge units for the fly ash. The air or water-cooled moving grate is the central piece of the process and is made of special alloys that resist the high temperature and avoid erosion and corrosion.

Working principle of a grate incinerator

The waste is first dried on the grate and then burnt at a high temperature (850 to 950 degrees C) accompanied with a supply of air. With a crane, the waste itself is emptied into an opening in the grate. The waste then moves towards the ash pit and it is then treated with water, cleaning the ash out. Air then flows through the waste, cooling the grate. Sometimes grates can also be cooled with water instead. Air gets blown through the boiler once more (but faster this time) to complete the burning of the flue gases to improve the mixing and excess of oxygen.

Suitability for Developing Nations

For lower income and developing countries with overflowing landfills, the moving grate incinerator seems suitable and efficient. Moving grate incineration is the most efficient technology for a large-scale mixed MSW treatment because it is the only thermal technology that has been able to treat over 3,000 tons of mixed MSW per day. It also seems to be considerably cheaper than conventional technologies.

Compared to other types of Waste-to-Energy technologies, this type of system also shows the highest ability to handle variation of MSW characteristics. As for the other incineration technologies like gasification and pyrolysis technologies, these are either limited in small-scale, limited in material for industrial/hazardous waste treatment, requiring preprocessing of mixed MSW before feeding, which make them not suitable for large-scale mixed MSW treatment.

Conclusion

For the reduction of significant waste volume, treatment using a moving grate incinerator with energy recovery is the most commonly used form of waste-to-energy (WTE) technology. The moving grate’s ability to treat significant volumes of waste efficiently, while not requiring pre-treatment or sorting is a major advantage that makes this suitable for developing countries. This technology could provide many other benefits to such nations. Implementing moving grate incinerators is most suitable for developing nations because not only will it reduce waste volume, but it would also reduce the demand for landfills, and could recover energy for electricity.

References

 “A Rapidly Emerging WTE Technology: Circulating Fluid Bed Combustion”. Huang, Qunxing, Yong Chi1, and Nickolas J. Themelis. Proceedings of International Thermal Treatment Technologies (IT3), San Antonio, TX, October 2013. Columbia University. Available: http://www.seas.columbia.edu/earth/wtert/sofos/Rapid_Emerging_Tech_CFB.pdf accessed on 29 March 2016.
“Incineration.” Waste Management Resources. Waste Management Resources. Available: http://www.wrfound.org.uk/articles/incineration.html accessed on 29 March 2016.
Kamuk, Bettina, and Jørgen Haukohl. ISWA Guidelines: Waste to Energy in Low and Middle Income Countries. Rep. International Solid Waste Association, 2013. Print.
“Municipal Solid Waste Management and Waste-to-Energy in the United States, China and Japan.” Themelis, Nickolas J., and Charles Mussche. 2nd International Academic Symposium on Enhanced Landfill Mining, Houthalen and Helchteren, Belgium, 4-16 October 2013.  Enhanced Landfill Mining. Columbia University.
“Review of MSW Thermal Treatment Tecnologies.” Lai, K.C.K., I.M.C. Lo, and T.T.Z. Liu. Proceedings of the International Conference on Solid Waste 2011- Moving Towards Sustainable Resource Management, Hong Kong SAR, P.R. China, 2 – 6 May 2011. Hong Kong SAR, P.R. China. 2011. 317-321. Available: http://www.iswa.org/uploads/tx_iswaknowledgebase/10_Thermal_Technology.pdf. accessed on 14 April 2016.
UN-HABITAT, 2010. Collection of Municipal Solid Waste in Developing Countries. United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), Nairobi. Available:
http://www.eawag.ch/fileadmin/Domain1/Abteilungen/sandec/E-Learning/Moocs/Solid_Waste/W1/Collection_MSW_2010.pdf.
World Bank, 2012. What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management. Urban Development Series Knowledge Papers. Available: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2012/03/16537275/waste-global-review-solid-wastemanagement. accessed on 14 April 2016.

Trends in Waste-to-Energy Industry

The increasing clamor for energy and satisfying it with a combination of conventional and renewable resources is a big challenge. Accompanying energy problems in almost all parts of the world, another problem that is assuming critical proportions is that of urban waste accumulation. The quantity of waste produced all over the world amounted to more than 12 billion tonnes in 2006, with estimates of up to 13 billion tonnes in 2011. The rapid increase in population coupled with changing lifestyle and consumption patterns is expected to result in an exponential increase in waste generation of up to 18 billion tonnes by year 2020. Ironically, most of the wastes are disposed of in open fields, along highways or burnt wantonly.

Waste-to-Energy-Industry

Size of the Industry

Around 130 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) are combusted annually in over 600 waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities globally that produce electricity and steam for district heating and recovered metals for recycling. The global market for biological and thermochemical waste-to-energy technologies is expected to grow to USD 29.2 billion by 2022. Incineration, with energy recovery, is the most common waste-to-energy method employed worldwide.

Since 1995, the global WTE industry increased by more than 16 million tonnes of MSW. Over the last five years, waste incineration in Europe has generated between an average of 4% to 8% of their countries’ electricity and between an average of 10% to 15% of the continent’s domestic heat.

Advanced thermal technologies, like gasification and pyrolysis, and anaerobic digestion systems are beginning to make deep inroads in the waste-to-energy sector and are expected to increase their respective market shares on account of global interest in integrated waste management framework in urban areas. Scarcity of waste disposal sites coupled with growing waste volumes and solid waste management challenges are generating high degree of interest in energy-from-waste systems among policy-makers, urban planners, entrepreneurs, utility companies etc.

Regional Trends

Currently, the European nations are recognized as global leaders of waste-to-energy movement. They are followed behind by the Asia Pacific region and North America respectively. In 2007 there are more than 600 WTE plants in 35 different countries, including large countries such as China and small ones such as Bermuda. Some of the newest plants are located in Asia. China is witnessing a surge in waste-to-energy installations and has plans to establish 125 new waste-to-energy plants during the twelfth five-year plan ending 2015.

Incineration is the most common waste-to-energy method used worldwide.

The United States processes 14 percent of its trash in WTE plants. Denmark, on the other hand, processes more than any other country – 54 percent of its waste materials. As at the end of 2008, Europe had more than 475 WTE plants across its regions – more than any other continent in the world – that processes an average of 59 million tonnes of waste per annum. In the same year, the European WTE industry as a whole had generated revenues of approximately US$4.5bn.

Legislative shifts by European governments have seen considerable progress made in the region’s WTE industry as well as in the implementation of advanced technology and innovative recycling solutions. The most important piece of WTE legislation pertaining to the region has been the European Union’s Landfill Directive, which was officially implemented in 2001 which has resulted in the planning and commissioning of an increasing number of WTE plants over the past five years.

Description of a Biogas Power Plant

A biogas plant is a decentralized energy system, which can lead to self-sufficiency in heat and power needs, and at the same time reduces environmental pollution. The key components of a modern biogas power (or anaerobic digestion) plant include: manure collection, anaerobic digester, effluent treatment, biogas storage, and biogas use/electricity generating equipment.

anaerobic_digestion_plant

Working of a Biogas Plant

The fresh animal manure is stored in a collection tank before its processing to the homogenization tank which is equipped with a mixer to facilitate homogenization of the waste stream. The uniformly mixed waste is passed through a macerator to obtain uniform particle size of 5-10 mm and pumped into suitable-capacity anaerobic digesters where stabilization of organic waste takes place.

In anaerobic digestion, organic material is converted to biogas by a series of bacteria groups into methane and carbon dioxide. The majority of commercially operating digesters are plug flow and complete-mix reactors operating at mesophilic temperatures. The type of digester used varies with the consistency and solids content of the feedstock, with capital investment factors and with the primary purpose of digestion.

Biogas Cleanup

Biogas contain significant amount of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas which needs to be stripped off due to its highly corrosive nature. The removal of H2S takes place in a biological desulphurization unit in which a limited quantity of air is added to biogas in the presence of specialized aerobic bacteria which oxidizes H2S into elemental sulfur.

Utilization of Biogas

Biogas is dried and vented into a CHP unit to a generator to produce electricity and heat. The size of the CHP system depends on the amount of biogas produced daily.

Treatment of Digestate

The digested substrate is passed through screw presses for dewatering and then subjected to solar drying and conditioning to give high-quality organic fertilizer.  The press water is treated in an effluent treatment plant based on activated sludge process which consists of an aeration tank and a secondary clarifier. The treated wastewater is recycled to meet in-house plant requirements.

Monitoring of Environmental Parameters

A chemical laboratory is necessary to continuously monitor important environmental parameters such as BOD, COD, VFA, pH, ammonia, C:N ratio at different locations for efficient and proper functioning of the process.

Control System

The continuous monitoring of the biogas plant is achieved by using a remote control system such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system. This remote system facilitates immediate feedback and adjustment, which can result in energy savings.

Importance of Waste-to-Energy

Waste-to-energy has been evolving over the years and there are many new developments in this technology, moving in mainly one direction – to be able to applied to smaller size waste streams. Not only is it a strategy that has real importance for the current public policy, it is a strategy that will definitely present itself to additional areas.

waste-management-energy

More than 50% of waste that is burnt in waste-to-energy facilities is already part of the short carbon cycle. In which case, it has an organic derivative and it doesn’t add to climate change, to begin with. The long form carbon that is burned, things like plastics that have come out of the ground in the form of oil do add to climate change. But, they have already been used once. They have already been extracted once and what we are doing is taking the energy out of them after that physical use, capturing some of that (energy), thereby offsetting more carbon from natural gas or oil or coal. So, the net effect is a reduction in carbon emissions.

Waste-to-energy and recycling are complementary depending on the results of analyses of the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, which are absolutely valid. One can decide in specific situations whether waste-to-energy or whether some type of recycling technology would be more appropriate. It is not an either/or option.

In Austria, it was possible to have an absolute ban on landfilling wastes exceeding 5% organic carbon. This is written in law since 1996. There were some exceptions for some period of time, but landfills of organic wastes are just banned, not just in Austria but also in other cultures similar to Austria – like Switzerland and Germany.

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

Waste to Energy Conversion Routes

Waste-to-energy is the use of modern combustion and biological technologies to recover energy from urban wastes. There are three major waste to energy conversion routes – thermochemical, biochemical and physico-chemical. Thermochemical conversion, characterized by higher temperature and conversion rates, is best suited for lower moisture feedstock and is generally less selective for products. On the other hand, biochemical technologies are more suitable for wet wastes which are rich in organic matter.

Teesside-WTE-plant

Thermochemical Conversion

The three principal methods of thermochemical conversion are combustion in excess air, gasification in reduced air, and pyrolysis in the absence of air. The most common technique for producing both heat and electrical energy from household wastes is direct combustion.

Combined heat and power (CHP) or cogeneration systems, ranging from small-scale technology to large grid-connected facilities, provide significantly higher efficiencies than systems that only generate electricity.

WTE_Pathways

Combustion technology is the controlled combustion of waste with the recovery of heat to produce steam which in turn produces power through steam turbines. Pyrolysis and gasification represent refined thermal treatment methods as alternatives to incineration and are characterized by the transformation of the waste into product gas as energy carrier for later combustion in, for example, a boiler or a gas engine. Plasma gasification, which takes place at extremely high temperature, is also hogging limelight nowadays.

Biochemical Conversion

Biochemical processes, like anaerobic digestion, can also produce clean energy in the form of biogas which can be converted to power and heat using a gas engine. Anaerobic digestion is the natural biological process which stabilizes organic waste in the absence of air and transforms it into biofertilizer and biogas.

Anaerobic digestion is a reliable technology for the treatment of wet, organic waste.  Organic waste from various sources is biochemically degraded in highly controlled, oxygen-free conditions circumstances resulting in the production of biogas which can be used to produce both electricity and heat.

In addition, a variety of fuels can be produced from waste resources including liquid fuels, such as ethanol, methanol, biodiesel, Fischer-Tropsch diesel, and gaseous fuels, such as hydrogen and methane. The resource base for biofuel production is composed of a wide variety of forestry and agricultural resources, industrial processing residues, and municipal solid and urban wood residues. Globally, biofuels are most commonly used to power vehicles, heat homes, and for cooking.

Physico-chemical Conversion

The physico-chemical technology involves various processes to improve physical and chemical properties of solid waste. The combustible fraction of the waste is converted into high-energy fuel pellets which may be used in steam generation. The waste is first dried to bring down the high moisture levels. Sand, grit, and other incombustible matter are then mechanically separated before the waste is compacted and converted into fuel pellets or RDF.

Fuel pellets have several distinct advantages over coal and wood because it is cleaner, free from incombustibles, has lower ash and moisture contents, is of uniform size, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

Generating Electricity from Municipal Solid Waste

We live in a throwaway society that accumulates vast quantities of waste every day. While this comes with pressing challenges, there are also opportunities for professionals including electrical engineers to process at least some of the waste to produce much-needed renewable energy.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2018 a total of 68 U.S. power plants generated around 14 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity from 29.5 million tons of combustible municipal solid waste (MSW). Biomass, which comes from plants and animals and is a source of renewable energy, was responsible for more than half (about 51%) of the electricity generated from waste. It also accounted for about 64% of the weight of the MSW used. The rest of the waste used was from other combustible materials including synthetic materials made from petroleum and plastics. Glass and metal are generally not noncombustible.

WTE_Plant_Belgium

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

Municipal Solid Waste in the U.S.

Burning MSW is not only a sustainable way to produce electricity, it also reduces the volume of waste that would inevitably end up in landfills. Instead, the EIA estimates that burning MSW effectively reduces waste volumes by about 87%.

But, while more than 268 million tons of MSW are generated in the United States every year, in 2017, only 12.7% of it was burned to recover energy. More than half (52.1%) went to landfill, about a quarter (25.1%) was recycled, and the rest (10.1%) was used to generate compost.

According to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fact sheet on sustainable materials management published in November 2019, the total MSW generated in 2017 by material, comprised:

  • Paper and paperboard, primarily containers and packaging 25%
  • Food 15.2% (see below)
  • Plastics 13.2% (19.2% of the total materials that ended up in landfill were plastics)
  • Yard trimmings 13.1% (most of this type of waste is composted)
  • Rubber, leather and textiles 9.7%
  • Metals 9.4%
  • Wood 6.7%
  • Glass 4.2%
  • Other 3.5%

Indicating tremendous human waste in its worst form, 22% of the material that ended up in landfill was classified as food. Trashed food was also the product category with the highest landfill rate, at an alarming 75.3%. Nearly a quarter (22%) of materials that were combusted with energy recovery were food, and overall, food was also the highest product category to recover energy, with a rate of 18.4%.

The total MSW combusted to generate energy was made up of the following materials:

  • Food 22%
  • Plastics 16.4%
  • Rubber, leather, and textiles 16.1%
  • Paper and paperboard 13.2%
  • Wood 8.4%
  • Metals 8.6%
  • Yard trimmings 6.2%
  • Glass 4.3%
  • Other 4.3%

Generating Electricity from MSW

There are a variety of MSW-to-energy technologies, but in the U.S. the most common system involves mass burning of unprocessed MSW in a large incinerator that has a boiler that produces steam, and a generator that produces electricity. Another entails processing MSW into fuel pellets for use in smaller power plants.

Waste materials destined to be processed to generate electricity

Generating electricity in mass-burn WTE plants is remarkably straightforward and follows seven basic steps:

  1. The MSW is dumped out of garbage trucks into a large pit.
  2. A crane with a giant claw attachment is used to grab the waste and dump it into a combustion chamber.
  3. The waste, which now becomes the fuel, starts to burn, releasing heat.
  4. The heat that is released turns water in the boiler into high-pressure steam.
  5. The steam turns the turbine generator’s blades and produces electricity.
  6. The mass-burn plant incorporates an control system to prevent air pollution by removing pollutants from the combustion gas before it is released through a smoke-stack.
  7. Ash is inevitably produced in the boiler and the air pollution control system, and this has to be removed before another load of waste can be burned.

While the volumes burned as fuel in different plants vary, for every 100 pounds of MSW produced in the U.S., potentially, more than 85 pounds could be burned to generate electricity.

Of course, the U.S. isn’t the only country that uses waste-to-energy plants to generate electricity from MSW. And in fact, when compared to a lot of other countries, the percentage of MSW burned with energy recovery in the U.S. is minimal. At least nine countries are named by the EIA as bigger producers of electricity from municipal waste. In Japan and some European countries, for instance, there are fewer energy resources and not much open space available for landfills. So generating electricity from MSW is an obvious opportunity.

The four leading nations identified by the EIA as burning the most MSW with energy recovery are:

  • Japan 68%
  • Norway 54%
  • Switzerland 48%
  • France 35%
  • The United Kingdom 34%

One thing’s for certain, the percentages are all set to continue increases globally as the move towards sustainability gains momentum. And U.S. percentages are going to increase too.

Use of Palm Kernel Shells in Circulating Fluidized Bed Power Plants

Palm kernel shells are widely used in fluidized bed combustion-based power plants in Japan and South Korea. The key advantages of fluidized bed combustion (FBC) technology are higher fuel flexibility, high efficiency and relatively low combustion temperature. FBC technology, which can either be bubbling fluidized bed (BFB) or circulating fluidized bed (CFB), is suitable for plant capacities above 20 MW. Palm kernel shells (PKS) is more suitable for CFB-based power plant because its size is less than 4 cm.

palm-kernel-shell-uses

Palm kernel shells is an abundant biomass resource in Southeast Asia

With relatively low operating temperature of around 650 – 900 oC, the ash problem can be minimized. Certain biomass fuels have high ash levels and ash-forming materials that can potentially damage these generating units. In addition, the fuel cleanliness factor is also important as certain impurities, such as metals, can block the air pores on the perforated plate of FBC unit. It is to be noted that air, especially oxygen, is essential for the biomass combustion process and for keeping the fuel bed in fluidized condition.

The requirements for clean fuel must be met by the provider or seller of the biomass fuel. Usually the purchasers require an acceptable amount of impurities (contaminants) of less than 1%. Cleaning of PKS is done by sifting (screening) which may either be manual or mechanical.

In addition to PKS, biomass pellets from agricultural wastes or agro-industrial wastes, such as EFB pellets which have a high ash content and low melting point, can also be used in CFB-based power plants. More specifically, CFBs are more efficient and emit less flue gas than BFBs.

The disadvantages of CFB power plant is the high concentration of the flue gas which demands high degree of efficiency of the dust precipitator and the boiler cleaning system. In addition, the bed material is lost alongwith ash and has to be replenished regularly.

A large-scale biomass power plant in Japan

The commonly used bed materials are silica sand and dolomite. To reduce operating costs, bed material is usually reused after separation of ash. The technique is that the ash mixture is separated from a large size material with fine particles and silica sand in a water classifier. Next the fine material is returned to the bed.

Currently power plants in Japan that have an efficiency of more than 41% are only based on ultra supercritical pulverized coal. Modification of power plants can also be done to improve the efficiency, which require more investments. The existing CFB power plants are driving up the need to use more and more PKS in Japan for biomass power generation without significant plant modifications.

Solid Wastes in the Middle East

The high rate of population growth, urbanization and economic expansion in the Middle East is not only accelerating consumption rates but also increasing the generation rate of all  sorts of waste. The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries is estimated at more than 150 million tons annually. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation. 

Saudi Arabia produces around 15 million tons of garbage each year. With an approximate population of about 28 million, the kingdom produces approximately 1.3 kilograms of waste per person every day.  According to a recent study conducted by Abu Dhabi Center for Waste Management, the amount of waste in UAE totaled 4.892 million tons, with a daily average of 6935 tons in the city of Abu Dhabi, 4118 tons in Al Ain and 2349 tons in the western region. Countries like Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar have astonishingly high per capita waste generation rate, primarily because of high standard of living and lack of awareness about sustainable waste management practices.

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.

Waste-to-Energy Prospects

Municipal solid waste in the Middle East is mainly comprised of organics, paper, glass, plastics, metals, wood etc. Municipal solid waste can be converted into energy by conventional technologies (such as incineration, mass-burn and landfill gas capture) or by modern conversion systems (such as anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis).

At the landfill sites, the gas produced by the natural decomposition of MSW is collected from the stored material and scrubbed and cleaned before feeding into internal combustion engines or gas turbines to generate heat and power. In addition, the organic fraction of MSW can be anaerobically stabilized in a high-rate digester to obtain biogas for electricity or steam generation.

Anaerobic digestion is the most preferred option to extract energy from sewage, which leads to production of biogas and organic fertilizer. The sewage sludge that remains can be incinerated or gasified/pyrolyzed to produce more energy. In addition, sewage-to-energy processes also facilitate water recycling.

Thus, municipal solid waste can also be efficiently converted into energy and fuels by advanced thermal technologies. Infact, energy recovery from MSW is rapidly gaining worldwide recognition as the 4th R in sustainable waste management system – Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and Recover.