Waste to Energy – How it works – How much does it cost?

It’s becoming increasingly important to take action against climate change. Environmentalists and the government are finally coming together to tackle the urgent problems facing our planet. One of the ways in which we can begin to make a change on a grand scale is to transform how we generate energy.

Recently, the UK had its first coal-free week for a century, meaning that all electricity was sourced from other means. The plan is to phase out coal-fired plants by 2025 to reduce carbon emissions and focus on renewable energy. However, this isn’t the only solution. Converting waste into energy is a viable option, so how does it all work? Let’s look into the process of converting waste into energy.

waste to energy illustration

How do you turn garbage into energy?

There are many methods used to turn garbage into energy. One common way to convert garbage into energy is to burn solid waste, just like the material found in landfills. The hope is that one day, instead of a traditional landfill site, each community may have their own waste-to-energy facility. This could then incinerate garbage, transforming that chemical energy into thermal energy. Then, this thermal energy is spun in a turbine and converted into electrical energy.

Furthermore, gasification is an alternative way to create energy from waste. During this process, carbonaceous substances are converted into carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This needs to be done an extremely high temperatures in the presence of oxygen. From this, Synthesis gas is created and used to produce heat and electricity. Additionally, another waste resource that can be used as energy is methane gas. This comes from our garbage, and may be used as fuel once the waste has decayed.

Sources of waste to energy?

Without a doubt, landfill sites are the biggest sources of waste. What’s more, it typically doesn’t matter how long the waste has been sitting there. At varying stages of the decomposing process, waste can still be used for conversion into energy. Agricultural waste across different industries is also another source of waste that may be converted.

How much does it cost to build a waste to power plant?

The cost of building a waste converting plant may vary from country to country. A typical plant with a capacity of around 400GWh energy production can cost up to $440m just to build. Then, there are of course the additional costs incurred to run the plant. To help with these costs, an operator may receive money for waste as an alternative to disposing of it in a landfill.

Are waste-to-energy plants good?

The idea that trash-to-energy plants are “good” is still somewhat controversial. They’re great as an alternative source of energy because we’ve got a lot of waste that can be utilised, instead of just left to rot away in landfills. However, there is a concern about just how much of an impact it can have on the environment as well as recycling practices. Some campaigners in Australia believe that such plants could be a threat to recycling, as people will feel less discouraged to participate in recycling schemes if they think their waste can be reused anyway.

How does waste combustion affect the environment?

On one hand, waste-to-energy plants are helping to empty landfill sites which, as we all know, are notoriously harmful to the environment. However, by burning this rubbish, trash-to-energy plants could add to the pollutants in the atmosphere. The saving grace is that these type of plants do still cause less air pollution than coal plants. This means that the amount of fumes entering the atmosphere such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and other particles will be reduced.

For further information: Alice Porter works closely with Eversmart Energy to better inform individuals of renewable energy and greener living choices that can be made in the workplace and at home.

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