A Primer on Waste-to-Energy

Waste-to-Energy (also known as energy-from-waste) is the use of thermochemical and biochemical technologies to recover energy, usually in the form of electricity, steam and fuels, from urban wastes.These new technologies can reduce the volume of the original waste by 90%, depending upon composition and use of outputs.

Energy is the driving force for development in all countries of the world. The increasing clamor for energy and satisfying it with a combination of conventional and renewable resources is a big challenge. Accompanying energy problems in different 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 upto 18 billion tonnes by year 2020.

Waste generation rates are affected by socio-economic development, degree of industrialization, and climate. Generally, the greater the economic prosperity and the higher percentage of urban population, the greater the amount of solid waste produced. Reduction in the volume and mass of solid waste is a crucial issue especially in the light of limited availability of final disposal sites in many parts of the world. Millions of tonnes of household wastes are generated each year with the vast majority disposed of in open fields or burnt wantonly.

The main categories of waste-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.

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 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.

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. In addition, wastes can also yield liquid fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol, which can be used to replace petroleum-based fuels. Cellulosic ethanol can be produced from grasses, wood chips and agricultural residues by biochemical route using heat, pressure, chemicals and enzymes to unlock the sugars in biomass wastes.

Waste-to-energy plants offer two important benefits of environmentally safe waste management and disposal, as well as the generation of clean electric power.  The growing use of waste-to-energy as a method to dispose of solid and liquid wastes and generate power has greatly reduced environmental impacts of municipal solid waste management, including emissions of greenhouse gases.

Waste Management in Iraq

Iraq is one of the most populous Arab countries with population exceeding 32 million. Rapid economic growth, high population growth, increasing individual income and sectarian conflicts have led to worsening problem of solid waste management problem in Iraq. Iraq generates around 31,000 tons of solid waste every day with per capita waste generation exceeding 1.4 kg per day. Baghdad alone produces more than 1.5 million tons of solid wastes each year.

iraq-wastes

Rapid increase in waste generation is putting tremendous strain on Iraqi waste handling infrastructure which have heavily damaged after decades of conflict and mismanagement. In the absence of modern and efficient waste handling and waste disposal infrastructure most of the wastes are disposed in unregulated landfills across Iraq, with little or no concern for both human health and environment. Spontaneous fires, groundwater contamination, surface water pollution and large-scale greenhouse gas emissions have been the hallmarks of Iraqi landfills.

The National Solid Waste Management Plan (NSWMP) for Iraq was developed in 2007 by collaboration of international waste management specialist. The plan contains the recommendations for development and which explains the background for decisions.

The plan states that Iraq will build 33 engineered landfills with the capacity of 600 million m3 in all of the 18 governorates in Iraq by 2027. In addition to constructing landfills the plan also focuses on the collection and transportation, disposable, recycling and reuses systems. Environment education was also taken into consideration to ensure provision of educational system which supports the participation of both communities and individuals in waste management in Iraq.

Besides Iraqi national waste management plan, the Iraqi ministry of environment started in 2008 its own comprehensive development program which is part of the ministry of environment efforts to improve environmental situation in Iraq. Ministry of Municipalities and Public Work, in collaboration with international agencies like UN Habitat, USAID, UNICEF and EU, are developing and implementing solid waste management master plans in several Iraqi governorates including Kirkuk, Anbar, Basra, Dohuk, Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Thi Qar.

Recent Progress

Kirkuk was the first city in Iraq to benefit from solid waste management program when foreign forces initiated a solid waste management program for the city in 2005 to find an environmentally safe solution to the city’s garbage collection and disposal dilemma. As a result the first environmentally engineered and constructed landfill in Iraq was introduced in Kirkuk In February 2007. The 48-acre site is located 10 miles south of Kirkuk, with an expected lifespan of 10–12 years and meets both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and European Union Landfill Directive standards.

The Iraqi city of Basra also benefited from international aid with the completion of the first landfill that is compliant with international environmental standards has been completed. Basra solid waste management program developed by UNICEF will not only restore efficient waste collection systems in the city but will also create informal “recycling schools” that will help in spreading environmental awareness in in the city’s society by launching a campaign to educate the public about effective waste disposal practices.

In addition, Basra city program plans to establish a regional treatment and disposal facility and initiate street sweeping crews. Basrah city waste management program is part of the UNICEF program supported by the European Union to develop Iraq’s water and sanitation sector.

Erbil’s solid waste management master plan has also been developed by UNICEF with funding from the European Union. Recently a contract was signed by the Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Municipalities and Tourism and a Canadian company to recycle the city’s garbage which will involve the construction of two recycling plants in the eastern and western outskirts of Erbil.

UNICEF has also developed a master plan to improve the management of solid waste in Dohuk Governorate which has been finalized in June 2011. Solid waste management master plans for Anbar, Sulaimaniya and Thi Qar governorates are also a part of UNICEF and EU efforts to attaining Iraq’s Millennium Development Goal targets of ensuring environmental sustainability by 2015.

Even though all of the effort by the international organizations are at local level and still not enough to solve solid waste management problem in Iraq, however these initiatives have been able to provide a much needed information regarding the size of the issue and valuable lessened learned used later by the Iraqi government to develop the Iraqi national waste management plan with the support of organizations such as UN Habitat, UNDG Iraq Trust Fund and USAID. The Iraqi national waste management plan is expected to ease the solid waste management problem in Iraq in the near future.