Gasification of Municipal Wastes

Gasification of municipal wastes involves the reaction of carbonaceous feedstock with an oxygen-containing reagent, usually oxygen, air, steam or carbon dioxide, generally at temperatures above 800°C. The process is largely exothermic but some heat may be required to initialise and sustain the gasification process.


The main product of the gasification process is syngas, which contains carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane. Typically, the gas generated from gasification has a low heating value (LHV) of 3 – 6 MJ/Nm3.The other main product produced by gasification is a solid residue of non-combustible materials (ash) which contains a relatively low level of carbon.

Syngas can be used in a number of ways, including:

  • Syngas can be burned in a boiler to generate steam for power generation or industrial heating.
  • Syngas can be used as a fuel in a dedicated gas engine.
  • Syngas, after reforming, can be used in a gas turbine
  • Syngas can also be used as a chemical feedstock.

Gasification has been used worldwide on a commercial scale for several decades by the chemical, refining, fertilizer and electric power industries. MSW gasification plants are relatively small-scale, flexible to different inputs and modular development. The quantity of power produced per tonne of waste by gasification process is larger than when applying the incineration method. The most important reason for the growing popularity of gasification of municipal wastes has been the increasing technical, environmental and public dissatisfaction with the performance of conventional incinerators.

Plasma Gasification

Plasma gasification uses extremely high temperatures in an oxygen-starved environment to completely decompose input waste material into very simple molecules in a process similar to pyrolysis. The heat source is a plasma discharge torch, a device that produces a very high temperature plasma gas. It is carried out under oxygen-starved conditions and the main products are vitrified slag, syngas and molten metal.


Vitrified slag may be used as an aggregate in construction; the syngas may be used in energy recovery systems or as a chemical feedstock; and the molten metal may have a commercial value depending on quality and market availability. The technology has been in use for steel-making and is used to melt ash to meet limits on dioxin/furan content. There are several commercial-scale plants already in operation in Japan for treating MSW and auto shredder residue.

Advantages of MSW Gasification

There are numerous solid waste gasification facilities operating or under construction around the world. Gasification of solid wastes has several advantages over traditional combustion processes for MSW treatment. It takes place in a low oxygen environment that limits the formation of dioxins and of large quantities of SOx and NOx. Furthermore, it requires just a fraction of the stoichiometric amount of oxygen necessary for combustion. As a result, the volume of process gas is low, requiring smaller and less expensive gas cleaning equipment.

The lower gas volume also means a higher partial pressure of contaminants in the off-gas, which favours more complete adsorption and particulate capture. Finally, gasification generates a fuel gas that can be integrated with combined cycle turbines, reciprocating engines and, potentially, with fuel cells that convert fuel energy to electricity more efficiently than conventional steam boilers.

Disadvantages of Gasification

The gas resulting from gasification of municipal wastes contains various tars, particulates, halogens, heavy metals and alkaline compounds depending on the fuel composition and the particular gasification process. This can result in agglomeration in the gasification vessel, which can lead to clogging of fluidised beds and increased tar formation. In general, no slagging occurs with fuels having ash content below 5%. MSW has a relatively high ash content of 10-12%.

Comparison of MSW-to-Energy Processes

MSW-to-Energy is the use of thermochemical and biochemical technologies to recover energy, usually in the form of electricity, steam and other fuels, from urban wastes. The main categories of MSW-to-energy technologies are physical technologies, which process waste to make it more useful as fuel; thermal technologies, which can yield heat, fuel oil, or syngas from both organic and inorganic wastes; and biological technologies, in which bacterial fermentation is used to digest organic wastes to yield fuel. These new technologies can reduce the volume of the original waste by 90%, depending upon composition and use of outputs.

Components of MSW-to-Energy Systems

  1. Front-end MSW preprocessing
  2. Conversion unit (reactor or anaerobic digester)
  3. Gas cleanup and residue treatment plant
  4. Energy recovery plant (optional)
  5. Emissions clean up


  • Combustion of raw MSW, moisture less than 50%
  • Sufficient amount of oxygen is required to fully oxidize the fuel
  • Combustion temperatures are in excess of 850oC
  • Waste is converted into CO2 and water concern about toxics (dioxin, furans)
  • Any non-combustible materials (inorganic such as metals, glass) remain as a solid, known as bottom ash (used as feedstock in cement and brick manufacturing)
  • Air pollution control system for fly ash, bottom ash, particulates etc.
  • Needs high calorific value waste to keep combustion process going, otherwise requires high energy for maintaining high temperatures

Anaerobic Digestion

  • Well-known biochemical technology for organic fraction of MSW and sewage sludge.
  • Biological conversion of biodegradable organic materials in the absence of oxygen at mesophilic or thermophilic temperatures.
  • Residue is stabilized organic matter that can be used as soil amendment
  • Digestion is used primarily to reduce quantity of sludge for disposal / reuse
  • Methane gas is generated which is used for heat and power generation.


  • Can be seen as between pyrolysis and combustion (incineration) as it involves partial oxidation.
  • Exothermic process (some heat is required to initialize and sustain the gasification process).
  • Oxygen is added but at low amounts not sufficient for full oxidation and full combustion.
  • Temperatures are above 650oC
  • Main product is syngas, typically has net calorific value of 4 to 10 MJ/Nm3
  • Other product is solid residue of non-combustible materials (ash) which contains low level of carbon


  • Thermal degradation of organic materials through use of indirect, external source of heat
  • Temperatures between 300 to 850oC are maintained for several seconds in the absence of oxygen.
  • Product is char, oil and syngas composed primarily of O2, CO, CO2, CH4 and complex hydrocarbons.
  • Syngas can be utilized for energy production or proportions can be condensed to produce oils and waxes
  • Syngas typically has net calorific value (NCV) of 10 to 20 MJ/Nm

Plasma Gasification

  • Use of electricity passed through graphite or carbon electrodes, with steam and/or oxygen / air injection to produce electrically conducting gas (plasma)
  • Temperatures are above 3000oC
  • Organic materials are converted to syngas composed of H2, CO
  • Inorganic materials are converted to solid slag
  • Syngas can be utilized for energy production or proportions can be condensed to produce oils and waxes

MSW-to-energy technologies can address a host of environmental issues, such as land use and pollution from landfills, and increasing reliance on fossil fuels. In many countries, the availability of landfill capacity has been steadily decreasing due to regulatory, planning and environmental permitting constraints. As a result, new approaches to waste management are rapidly being written into public and institutional policies at local, regional and national levels.

Medical Waste Management in Developing Countries

Healthcare sector is growing at a very rapid pace, which in turn has led to tremendous increase in the quantity of medical waste generation in developing countries, especially by hospitals, clinics and other healthcare establishments. The quantity of healthcare waste produced in a typical developing country depends on a wide range of factors and may range from 0.5 to 2.5 kg per bed per day.


For example, India generates as much as 500 tons of biomedical wastes every day while Saudi Arabia produces more than 80 tons of healthcare waste daily. The growing amount of medical wastes is posing significant public health and environmental challenges across the world. The situation is worsened by improper disposal methods, insufficient physical resources, and lack of research on medical waste management. The urgent need of the hour is to healthcare sustainable in the real sense of the word.

Hazards of Healthcare Wastes

The greatest risk to public health and environment is posed by infectious waste (or hazardous medical waste) which constitutes around 15 – 25 percent of total healthcare waste. Infectious wastes may include items that are contaminated with body fluids such as blood and blood products, used catheters and gloves, cultures and stocks of infectious agents, wound dressings, nappies, discarded diagnostic samples, swabs, bandages, disposal medical devices, contaminated laboratory animals etc.

Improper management of healthcare wastes from hospitals, clinics and other facilities in developing nations pose occupational and public health risks to patients, health workers, waste handlers, haulers and general public. It may also lead to contamination of air, water and soil which may affect all forms of life. In addition, if waste is not disposed of properly, ragpickers may collect disposable medical equipment (particularly syringes) and to resell these materials which may cause dangerous diseases.

Inadequate healthcare waste management can cause environmental pollution, growth and multiplication of vectors like insects, rodents and worms and may lead to the transmission of dangerous diseases like typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and AIDS through injuries from syringes and needles contaminated with human.

In addition to public health risks associated with poor management of biomedical waste, healthcare wastes can have deleterious impacts on water bodies, air, soil as well as biodiversity. The situation is further complicated by harsh climatic conditions in many developing nations which makes disposal of medical waste more challenging.

The predominant medical waste management method in the developing world is either small-scale incineration or landfilling. However, the WHO policy paper of 2004 and the Stockholm Convention, has stressed the need to consider the risks associated with the incineration of healthcare waste in the form of particulate matter, heavy metals, acid gases, carbon monoxide, organic compounds, pathogens etc.

In addition, leachable organic compounds, like dioxins and heavy metals, are usually present in bottom ash residues. Due to these factors, many industrialized countries are phasing out healthcare incinerators and exploring technologies that do not produce any dioxins. Countries like United States, Ireland, Portugal, Canada and Germany have completely shut down or put a moratorium on medical waste incinerators.

Alternative Treatment Technologies

The alternative technologies for healthcare waste disposal are steam sterilization, advanced steam sterilization, microwave treatment, dry heat sterilization, alkaline hydrolysis, biological treatment and plasma gasification.

Nowadays, steam sterilization (or autoclaving) is the most common alternative treatment method. Steam sterilization is done in closed chambers where both heat and pressure are applied over a period of time to destroy all microorganisms that may be present in healthcare waste before landfill disposal. Among alternative systems, autoclaving has the lowest capital costs and can be used to process up to 90% of medical waste, and are easily scaled to meet the needs of any medical organization.

Advanced autoclaves or advanced steam treatment technologies combine steam treatment with vacuuming, internal mixing or fragmentation, internal shredding, drying, and compaction thus leading to as much as 90% volume reduction. Advanced steam systems have higher capital costs than standard autoclaves of the same size. However, rigorous waste segregation is important in steam sterilization in order to exclude hazardous materials and chemicals from the waste stream.

Microwave treatment is a promising technology in which treatment occurs through the introduction of moist heat and steam generated by microwave energy. A typical microwave treatment system consists of a treatment chamber into which microwave energy is directed from a microwave generator. Microwave units generally have higher capital costs than autoclaves, and can be batch or semi-continuous.

Chemical processes use disinfectants, such as lime or peracetic acid, to treat waste. Alkaline digestion is a unique type of chemical process that uses heated alkali to digest tissues, pathological waste, anatomical parts, or animal carcasses in heated stainless steel tanks. Biological processes, like composting and vermicomposting, can also be used to degrade organic matter in healthcare waste such as kitchen waste and placenta.

Plasma gasification is an emerging solution for sustainable management of healthcare waste. A plasma gasifier is an oxygen-starved reactor that is operated at the very high temperatures which results in the breakdown of wastes into hydrogen, carbon monoxide, water etc. The main product of a plasma gasification plant is energy-rich syngas which can be converted into heat, electricity and liquids fuels. Inorganic components in medical wastes, like metals and glass, get converted into a glassy aggregate.