A recent study presented in the Public service policy explored the viability of large-scale production of waste-derived fuels created from municipal solid waste as a means of simultaneously reducing dependence on fossil fuels, meeting growing energy demand, and tackling the continued overproduction of waste in urban areas.
To study: Snapshot of waste derived fuels. Image Credit: Belish / Shutterstock.com
The world’s over-reliance on fossil fuels and current climate and ecological emergencies have created an urgent need to move to a more sustainable future through massive societal changes, technical innovations and a significant shift in approaches to science. production and consumption.
Modern society relies on the abundant availability of energy. Demand for energy continues to rise in high-income countries, and more and more populations without access to the electricity grid are starting to access it. It is widely recognized and accepted that energy production must be reoriented towards more sustainable, ideally renewable, methods in order to have any chance of meeting the necessary greenhouse gas emissions targets.
Globally, it has been reported that over 2 billion tonnes of waste is generated each year. For example, an average US citizen generates about 1.89 kg of waste per day, a Portuguese citizen generates about 1.25 kg of waste per day, and a Chinese citizen generates about 0.49 kg of waste per day.
There are a number of risks associated with sending waste to landfills, including the leaching of chemicals and pollutants into soils and groundwater, greenhouse gas emissions, and health issues associated with landfill. presence of hazardous materials.
Studies have also suggested that global waste generation will increase by up to 70% by 2050. The authors suggested that the fabrication of solid waste-derived (RDF) fuels from municipal solid waste could offer a potential means of meet global energy demand while reducing the amount of waste reaching landfills.
Municipal solid waste is generated daily and in large quantities by households and commercial buildings. This waste mainly consists of food waste, waste paper, plastics and inorganic materials, such as glass or metal waste.
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Much of this waste is also made up of synthetic polymers, biomass and other potentially combustible materials that can be used as an alternative energy source through waste-to-energy systems.
The production of waste-derived fuel generally begins with the cleaning and treatment of municipal solid waste to remove recyclables, metals and non-flammable materials. The remaining material – mainly paper, wood, plastics and cardboard – can then be turned into a suitable fuel source, usually through incineration.
The main challenge for the development of viable and potentially commercialized waste derived fuels arises from the need to ensure that they meet the relevant technical specifications and standards in terms of energy production, safety and environmental friendliness. .
The study aimed to provide a review of current modes of production of waste-derived fuels, emphasizing that these methods depend largely on the composition of municipal solid waste and the technology available to treat it. The authors noted that this is not a new approach, however, and that there are historical examples of waste-derived fuels dating back to 1876.
The study highlights the amount of waste currently being landfilled rather than recycled, breaking it down by country and citing income levels as a key factor in countries’ unrecycled waste.
The authors propose that this waste could instead be used to open a new space in the solid waste management sector, instead of using this waste to generate energy through appropriate thermochemical processes to produce fuels derived from the waste. .
Provided the appropriate standards are met and emissions are kept to a minimum, these waste-to-energy applications have the potential to offer a viable alternative to fossil fuel-based power generation methods.
However, the authors state that economic factors remain a major obstacle to the widespread implementation of waste-to-energy applications. In order to compete with other forms of electricity generation, electricity produced through rejected by-product fuels must be more cost effective than its fossil-fueled counterparts.
In Europe, the UK is the largest exporter of waste-derived fuels, mainly to other European countries such as the Netherlands. Fuel from waste would cost between 80 and 105 euros per tonne, with fees and taxes representing between 50 and 60% of these costs.
In countries where it is not possible to locally supplement waste-to-energy processes, the authors propose that these taxes represent an obstacle to a more international approach to the production of waste-derived fuel and the disposal of less waste. of waste in landfills.
Specifically, the authors claim that it is possible to save around 200 kg of CO equivalent2 per tonne of residual waste by using it in energy recovery from waste as a substitute for fossil fuels, rather than sending it to landfills.
In order to take full advantage of this potential, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of government policies, international regulations and standardization to manage and develop the market for waste-derived fuels. Tax incentives could be a key part of this strategy.
José Antonio Mayoral Chavando, Valter Bruno Silva, Luís AC Tarelho, João Sousa Cardoso, Daniela Eusébio, Snapshot of Waste Derived Fuels, Public service policy, Volume 74, 2022, 101316, ISSN 0957-1787, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0957178721001491?via%3Dihub
AZoCleanTech, 2019, Solving Waste Derived Fuel Problems, https://www.azocleantech.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=850