Everyday solid waste is being created and deposited around the world. As this cycle continues, the end result is landfills and environmental pollution. There have been attempts to get rid of the environmental effects of landfills such as pollution. One of the methods is proper management of waste through conversion to renewable energy. These include incineration and environmental dumping. There has also increased efforts in recycling, reducing and reusing solid waste. This has worked in reducing the amount of waste disposal. However, the increasing world population creates more waste producers. This implies that waste increases on a daily basis. This must be controlled before it becomes an environmental menace. It is worth noting that the methods mentioned above, if not well monitored, can cause negative impacts to the environment as well threat life on earth. The spaces for landfills are increasing becoming few and the landfills are also potential health hazards. There has been an effort to reduce the amounts of biodegradable wastes in the landfills by converting them to heat or electric energy. Most European countries aim at having the percentage of renewable energy reach 20% of the total energy by 2020. This goal can only become a reality if waste energy is well harnessed.
Waste to energy, also abbreviated as WtE, refers to all the processes involved in created heat or electric energy from waste sources. Use of waste in energy production is beneficial in reducing the increasing amounts of waste deposited in the landfills. Waste-to-energy has also improved the flexibility of the energy system by increasing the level of renewable energy which in turns helps in stepping down emissions of greenhouse gas. This paper seeks to examine the use of waste for energy production and its effects to both the current and subsequent generations. The focus here shall be on the solid waste that has not been recycled or reused. The paper shall address the criteria for choosing a waste-to-energy technology as well as the technology that has satisfies the majority of the criteria. The paper shall also address the potential effectiveness and the possible opposition that the technology is likely to face.
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Criteria for Choosing Waste-to-Energy Technologies
Waste can be potentially used to produce transport fuel such as petrol made from syngas and upgraded biogas. According an EU report, 49% of the waste is deposited in landfills, 18% is incinerated, and the remaining 33% is recycled and reused. However, the spaces for landfills in increasing becoming few and the landfills are also health hazards. There has been an effort to reduce the amounts of biodegradable wastes in the landfills by converting them to heat or electric energy. From an environmental perspective and an energy system perspective, it is very vital to consider a range of technologies so as to efficiently convert waste to energy. There are three major categories of waste-to-energy technologies. These are; physical, biological, and thermal technologies. All these technologies have two main environmental benefits. First, they eliminate the possible pollution and land use by landfills. Secondly, they also eliminate the environmental perils that results from fossil fuels. The choice of a specific technology to be is dependent on several factors such as fuel efficiency, the amount of CO2 emission, the costs, the amount of waste to be converted, and the location of waste.
Criteria 1: Fuel Efficiency
The method used in converting waste to energy should employ less energy and produce more energy. In other words, the method must aim at energy recovery. There are other technologies that consume more fuel than the energy they produce in return. This may not seem feasible. The amount of energy output should outweigh the amount of fuel used in the process of conversion otherwise the project would not be viable in the energy system perspective.
Criterion 2: CO2 Reduction
The major aim of waste-to-energy conversion is to eliminate the environmental threats posed by waste disposal in landfills such as air pollution. The technologies employed in waste management should be one that emits limited amounts of CO2. In thermal technologies such as gasification and pyrolysis, almost all the carbon content that were present in the waste is emitted in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. For instance, 27% of the municipal solid waste is made of carbon. This implies that 27% of the waste will be emitting to the atmosphere which is very detrimental for human health. Therefore, in terms of CO2 the thermal technologies are not viable method of energy production. In order to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere, several countries have enacted laws that allows for incineration of only the biodegradable past of the waste while plastics and other oil and gas products are considered non-renewables. The emission control should endeavor to remove all the mercury emissions which are very volatile and toxic.
Criterion 3: Costs
The cost of landfills is higher than incineration. It is important to choose a technology that is viable in terms of cost of resources for setting up the plant.
Criterion 4: Amount of Waste
If the amount of waste to be used is little, then it would not be viable to invest more money on such projects which may not yield substantial energy.
Criterion 5: The Location of Waste
Most of the landfills are located within the urban centers. Therefore, the technology employed should be one that has little effect on the lives of people within the vicinity. Thermal technologies are not efficient for urban-located landfills. This is mainly because there are emissions of very harmful gases that can cause health problems. Physical incineration is always appropriate for landfills that are located in urban areas.
Incineration as a Method of Waste-To-Energy Conversion
Incineration refers to the process of waste treatment through combustion of biodegradable substances that are present in the waste source. It also referred to as thermal treatment of waste since it involves the use of high temperatures to burn the waste materials. The waste materials are converted to heat, ash, and flue gas. The ash results inorganic substances such as of particulate or solid lumps which are often carried by flue gas. The heat from the incinerators can be a source of electric power.
The first incinerator was designed by Albert Fryer in 1874. During this time, the incinerators were referred to destructors. This was based on the environmental impacts that the old incinerators had such as air pollution. However, today’s incinerators have been built with pollution mitigation facilities such flue gas cleaning system. Since the ancient times, the old incinerators have undergone several evolution processes with addition of important features. The modern incinerators have gas scrubbing equipment, several chambers, heat recovery, complete automation, high temperature and residence time, and constant emission monitoring system.
There are two types of incinerators. The first type removes the recyclables before incineration begins. This helps to reduce the costs of wear and tear in the furnace. The second type undertakes incineration and separates the recyclables afterwards. The former is expensive in terms of labor cost while the latter requires continuous replacement of the furnace due to the effect of wear and tear. The incinerator operates by storing the garbage on a pit where a crane picks and deposits it in the furnace. As the incineration process goes on, the ash is deposited in the receptacle where they are taken back to the landfill. With high temperatures exceeding 12000C, the toxic chemicals in the ash are destroyed which reduces the level of pollution in the land.
Flue gas from the furnace is passed through lime in scrubber so as to remove sulphur dioxide and hydrogen chloride. The resultant gas is then passed through bag-house to remove pollutants after which it is released to the air. The final emission in the air has no odor and is sometimes invisible. However, there may be instants of small quantities of pollutants reaching the atmosphere. It is worth noting that with such emission monitoring systems, the quality of emission is almost 100% efficient.
The use of incinerators has elicited equal support and opposition from common people. Particularly, environmentalist have strongly opposed this method of waste disposal citing the health impacts such as cancer and destruction of immune system due to inhaling dioxin emitted to the atmosphere by incinerators. However, the issues raised by opponent have been effectively addressed by the emergence of the modern incinerators.
How the Method Satisfies Criteria
Criterion 1: Fuel efficiency
Incinerators are very efficient in terms of usage of fuel. The incinerators use regular fuel and the garbage keeps the fire burning for 24-hours daily. This helps in reduces the chances of imported fuel which in turn reduces the cost of energy production.
Criterion 2: CO2 Reduction
Modern incinerators have continuous emission monitoring system. All hydrocarbons can be oxidized to water and CO2. This implies that the amount of carbon emitted to the atmosphere is reduced by a substantial amount.
Criterion 3: Costs
Incinerators are simple materials and are easy to maintain. With incinerators, heat can be recovered. An effective incinerator can last between 30 to 40 years which makes it more durable and reliable as a source of energy.
Criterion 4: Amount of waste
Incinerators are effective for both high amounts of waste as well as limited waste. This is because the cost of acquiring incinerators is cheap as compared to other thermal treatment technologies such pyrolysis.
Criterion 5: Location of Waste
The location of waste will determine the technology employed. Thermal processes such as gasification may be very detrimental to the environment and human health. Emission of harmful substances may alter the climatic conditions of a place.
Making Method Attractive To Citizens
Despite the normal trends of dumping wastes in landfills, incineration is more effective than dumping. Citizens need to understand that landfills can easily pollute underground water sources by discharging toxic substances to the ground. It is even worse during rainy seasons whereby water drains down waste materials to major water bodies. This poses great health and environmental threat as compared to incineration. Besides, incineration reduces the volume of waste by over ninety percent. The remaining ten percent, which is often in ash form, can be vitrified to create artificial reefs or can be mixed with clinker to make cement. As a matter of fact, research shows that waste-to-energy facilities are friendlier to the environment than landfills. This is because landfills emit high amounts of hydrocarbon, hazardous air pollutants, furans, dioxins, and nitrogen oxides than incinerators. The modern incinerators have proper environmental controls which emits mere specks of dioxin as compared to what is emitted from landfills. In other words, incinerator is still better than landfill disposal of waste.
The incinerators have the capability of reducing the waste volume by ninety percent. Besides, the modern incinerators have been built with continuous emission monitoring systems which helps to keep check on the gases emitted to the atmosphere. The equipped also has a bag-house which helps in removing pollutants that are trapped in fly ash. Incinerators are very simple devices but they ensure the highest removal efficiency. Another important aspect of incinerators is that energy can always be recovered. Most gases that are emitted during incineration are burnt which reduces the smoke and odor. The use of waste-to-energy facilities will help increase the level of renewable energy which in turn increases the flexibility of the energy system.
Incineration device has got many components that make it very effective. It has waste pre-treatment as well as loading systems (hoppers, sprayers, and conveyors). Other components include combustion chambers, ash receptacle, emission monitoring system, burner management system (keeps the temperature at its highest point to ensure combustion of harmful gases), heat recovery, stack discharge, and pollution control devices.
Incineration as waste-to-energy technology has faced opposition from citizens due to its apparent disadvantage. The first major concern that has been raised by many is that incinerators emit particulate matters, acid gas, trace dioxin, and heavy metals. This concern is still being despite the development of new incinerators which has significantly reduced the amount of emission of such substances. Another important opposition has arisen from waste resource ethics which argues that the use of incinerators is destructive to valuable resources and that it reduces the benefits of recycling and minimizing of waste. This is mainly because many people consider incineration as being more dangerous to the environment than recycling. It is worth noting that electric efficiency of incinerators ranges between 14-28%. This implies that the rest of the energy is often lost as waste heat yet it can be used for district heating. Another potential problem is the possibility of fuel gases from the boilers finding their way into the atmosphere. However, the development of new incinerators has addressed all the chances of gas emission and has reduced the level of emission to almost zero.
Despite the fact the waste production has been on the rise, efforts have been made to cut down on the environmental impacts of waste disposal. With the increasing rates of recovery, there is a sure hope for the future generation that they would possible rely on waste recovery other waste disposal. Waste recovery has also worked to improve the quality of the ecosystem. The development of modern incinerators has worked to ensure that there is maximum utilization of waste energy with less environmental impact.
The use of incinerator still stands out as the most effective way of utilizing waste in the landfills. This is mainly because most of the landfills are located in urban areas where other forms of combustion can pose severe health problems to the residents. As a matter of fact, the modern incinerators can also be used to generate electricity. The incinerators use regular fuel and the garbage keeps the fire burning for 24-hours daily. This helps in reduces the chances of imported fuel which in turn reduces the cost of energy production.
The benefits of incinerators are worth its acceptance by all. For instance, a 250-tonne incinerator is capable of saving up to five million dollars annually in electricity. This translates to about 7 megawatts electricity per day. In the long run, incinerators are cheaper, durable and reliable source of energy. Unlike ponds that dependent on amount of rainfall or wind power that depends of amount and intensity of wind, an effective incinerator can last between 30 to 40 years. It is therefore very important that incinerators be supported by all.
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