Waste-to-energy from municipal solid wastes

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has assessed potential research and development (R&D) activities that could improve the economic viability of municipal solid waste-to-energy facilities. DOE recognizes that sorted municipal solid waste (MSW) and related feedstocks constitute a present disposal problem for municipalities and similar entities. Improving waste-to-energy conversion in existing facilities and developing technologies for next generation facilities is important to localities across the country as they explore more cost-effective solutions to waste disposal.

MSW starts out as a complex mixture of food waste, glass, metals, yard trimmings, woody waste materials, non-recyclable paper and plastic, construction and demolition waste, rags, and sludge from wastewater treatment. MSW presents numerous challenges when used as a feedstock for energy production: it has low energy content, high moisture, heterogeneous composition, and despite its abundance—the average American produces 4.4 pounds per day—it is highly distributed across the United States making it difficult for traditional approaches to reach economies of scale in many parts of the country.

Incineration and anaerobic digestion represent two existing types of MSW waste-to-energy facilities in the United States. Both require prior separation of recyclables to achieve optimal resource recovery and can produce electricity, heat, or both. However, high operating costs and high-level of competition from alternative sources make the production of heat and power from MSW economically challenging.

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