Thursday, April 26, 2012

Environmental and Economic Analysis of Emerging Plastics Conversion Technologies

The five Key Findings from the study Environmental and Economic Analysis of Emerging Plastics Conversion Technologies, carried out by the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International for the American Chemistry Council are presented here for the benefit of our readers.

We hope this latest research on pyrolysis and gasification technologies will keep our readers up to date with the latest technologies under development and ready for deployment. This study can be considered a follow up to the Earth Engineering Center's (EEC) study for the American Chemistry Council, Energy and Economic Value of Non-recycled Plastics (NRP) and Municipal Solid Wastes (MSW) that are Currently Landfilled in the Fifty States.

The study, Environmental and Economic Analysis of Emerging Plastics Conversion Technologies yields the following key findings:   

1. A range of conversion technologies are already technologically feasible, and more may be possible. The study identified 41 conversion technologies facilities in development, in demonstration phase, or in full‐scale commercialization. The primary feature differentiating technologies is the feedstock.  Pyrolysis technologies are generally suited to handling feedstock from waste plastics; gasification technologies are generally suited to accepting MSW; anaerobic digestion and concentrated acid hydrolysis are more suited for organic wastes.

2. Conversion technologies are expected to begin breaking through to commercial viability with a short horizon – in 5 to 10 years. Plastics‐to‐oil pyrolysis technologies are generally closer to full scale commercialization than MSW‐based technologies (typically gasification), in part because of the more consistent feedstock composition and supply for the former.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Need for Global Attention to Solid Waste Management

Some countries have achieved considerable success in solid waste management. But the rest of the world is grappling to deal with its wastes. In these places, improper management of solid waste continues to impact public health of entire communities and cities; pollute local water, air and land resources; contribute to climate change and ocean plastic pollution; hinder climate change adaptation; and accelerate depletion of forests and mines.

Compared to solid waste management, we can consider that the world has achieved significant success in providing other basic necessities like food, drinking water, energy and economic opportunities. Managing solid wastes properly can help improve the above services further. Composting organic waste can help nurture crops and result in a better agricultural yield. Reducing landfilling and building sanitary landfills will reduce ground and surface water pollution which can help provide cleaner drinking water. Energy recovery from non-recyclable wastes can satiate significant portion of a city's energy requirement. Inclusive waste management where informal waste recylcers are involved can provide an enormous economic opportunity to the marginalized urban poor. Additionally, a good solid waste management plan with cost recovery mechanisms can free tax payers money for other issues.

In the case of India, sustainable solid waste management in 2011 would have provided
- 9.6 million tons of compost that could have resulted in a better agricultural yield
- energy equivalent to 58 million barrels of oil from non-recyclable wastes
- 6.7 million tons of secondary raw materials to industries in the form of recyclable materials and livelihood to the urban poor

Solid waste management until now has only been a social responsibility of the corporate world or one of the services to be provided by the municipality and a non-priority for national governments. However, in Mumbai, the improperly managed wastes generate 22,000 tons of toxic pollutants like particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrous and sulfur oxides in addition to 10,000 grams of carcinogenic dioxins and furans every year. These numbers are only for the city of Mumbai. This is the case in cities all across the developing world. There are numerous examples where groundwater is polluted by heavy metals and organic contaminants due to solid waste landfills. Solid waste management expenditure of above $ 1 billion per year competes with education, poverty, security and other sustainable initiatives in New York City. Fossil fuels for above 500,000 truck trips covering hundreds of miles are required to transport NYC's waste to landfills outside the city and state. Similarly, New Delhi spends more than half of its entire municipal budget on solid waste management, while it is desperate for investments and maintenance of roads, buildings, and other infrastructure.

Solid waste management is not just a corporate social responsibility or a non-priority service anymore. Improper waste management is a public health and environmental crisis, economic loss, operational inefficiency and political and public awareness failure. Integrated solid waste management can be a nation building exercise for healthier and wealthier communities. Therefore, it needs global attention to arrive at solutions which span across such a wide range of issues.

History of Gasification of Municipal Solid Waste through the eyes of Mr. Hakan Rylander

This is an excerpt from Let's speak about Waste To Energy..., an interview conducted by Antonis Mavropoulos and published on his Global View of Waste Management Blog****

Mr. Hakan Rylander, CEO Sysav Company Group
Mr. Hakan Rylander is a former President of International Solid Waste Association (ISWA)  and the current CEO of the SYSAV Company Group. He is one of the most experienced WtE engineers I know, involved in all different phases and aspects of a WtE facility. SYSAV is a role model company in WtE.  Mr. Hakan has held many other key-positions e.g. Chairman of the ISWA WtE Working Group, Swedish Representative in the Nordic Association of Waste Management, Chairman of the Scania Society of Engineers. Currently Hakan is also running the R&D Committee of Avfall Sverige.

Antonis Mavropoulos: What can we expect from the (Waste-to-Energy, WTE) technology in terms of improvements?

Hakan Rylander: - to reduce and minimize the amount of bottom ash. (More here)
- to develop a safe and environmentally correct way of final handling of the flue gas cleaning residues and to recover as much as technical and economically possible of the metal content in these residues and in the bottom ash (More here)
- to increase the electrical efficiency in the waste-to-energy plants. (More here)

About the History of Developing Gasification Technology for Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)

Last but not least, in a recent discussion I heard, probably for the 100th time in last two years, that incineration is dead and that gasification and plasma pyrolysis will soon substitute all incineration plants. What is the current status of those technologies? Are they applicable for Mixed MSW? Are there commercial applications and operational experiences? After all,  is it something we can trust?

Antonis: A lot of people say they are promising and they are more environmental friendly than incineration...?

Hakan: Well,

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Media question about New York City's Waste-to-Energy RFP

Prof. Themelis, I'm a reporter at City & State, a New York politics and government newspaper.

I'm writing a short item about New York City's waste-to-energy Request for Proposal (RFP). Marco Castaldi, a professor at Columbia University and an expert on waste-to-energy technologies, told me that the city is moving in the right direction with this, but that older combustion technology should be considered along with newer technologies, such as gasification. I'm told the two main types of waste-to-energy technologies are combustion, which has been used for about 30 years, and gasification, which has emerged over the past five years or so.

He said that he's not for one type of technology or the other, but that as an engineer, it's best to have both options on the table to find the best possible solution for the city. For example, the newer gasification technologies are more versatile, since the gas created can be used in more ways, but it also is more expensive.

Do you agree with this? Is there a risk the city could end up promoting gasification when combustion might be a better option for the city as it tries to divert more waste from landfills?

Response of Prof. Themelis:
I agree with Prof. Castaldi and this is what we recommend to cities and towns who wnat to move away from landfilling: When they issue Requests For Proposals for thermal treatment (WTE) of MSW, they should not close the door to either established or new technologies. ALL technologies, older and newer, must meet very stringent emission standards so the decision of the municipality must be based on economics (lower gate fee to be paid by city per ton of MSW treated). Broadly, these economics depend on three factors: Plant availability (number of 24-hr days per year); energy production per ton of MSW; and capital investment per annual ton of capacity. On this basis, let the most economic process win. Regrettably in less informed/advanced cities, this issue has been so politicized that some RFPs specifically exclude the existing technologies, as was the case in the recent RFP of Mayor Bloomberg, The hope is that newer WTE technologies, such as gasification, will be more acceptable to people who for over twenty years have opposed any form of WTE for NYC; the result is that the City today landfills more wastes than in 2001. The scientific fact is that gasification is partial combustion, to produce syngas, followed by full combustion of the syngas to produce energy. All thermal treatment processes, old, new and future ones, require full combustion. People who prefer landfilling in other states to WTE in their own state are opposed to any type of WTE, as it happened to the Staten Island part of the NYC RFP last week.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Scientific American on "Does it make sense to get energy from garbage?

A reporter from New York Public Radio brought to my attention today (April 14, 2012) the above article in Scientific American. I found it to be factual until I came to the following statement by Laura Haight of NYPIRG:
"Laura Haight, senior environmental associate at New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), says that if the petition passes, waste will take incentives away from more sustainable technologies like wind and solar. She also says that presenting the issue as though incineration offsets landfill emissions is the wrong approach."
I don't know in what other environmental areas NYPIRG is involved but when it comes to waste management in New York State, I think it is doing a great disservice to New York and the City by constantly maintaining that the alternative to WTE is not landfilling but recycling. They have been propagating this myth for years and regrettably are successful, thereby perpetuating sending hundreds of thousands of garbage trucks annually over GWB to distant states for landfilling. In fact, the tons recycled in NYC have not changed much since 2002, when Mayor Bloomberg read our Life After Fresh Kills report. Also, recycling tonnage did not change much between 2008 and 2010, according to data provided on the web by the Department of Sanitation of NYC. NYPIRG obviously do not want to be confused by the facts.

If one goes to Theses, they will see a list of Theses sponsored by the Earth Engineering Center (EEC) in recent years that has included all means of sustainable waste management. Each thesis represents over one year of intense study by highly qualified young engineers (we have room for only one out of about ten applicants) who have come to Columbia's Earth and Environmental Engineering program because they want to contribute, in their career, to sustainable development. They report the facts.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Global Landfill Mapping Initiative

Contributors: Anne van den Heuvel, Ljupka Arsova, Ranjith Annepu, Roxanne Cason

The Cason Family Foundation (CFF) has launched the Global Landfill Mapping Initiative (Help us choose an Acronym). CFF intends to make this a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Commitment with Esri in September, 2012.


Why? We are on the brink of an environmental and social crisis surrounding the issue of solid waste landfills. Improper disposal of waste is an enormous environmental and public health concern. Demand for recyclables is increasing due to scarcity of primary raw materials, rising commodity prices, Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility initiatives and general  economic incentives. 
1-2% of urban population in developing countries (where the largest unsanitary landfills are situated) are waste pickers who live and work on or around landfills [i].
It is estimated that 100 square kilometers of greenfields are converted to landfills every year, globally [ii].
Improper waste management emits 10,000 gTEQ of dioxins/furans and 22,000 metric tons of air pollutants every year in Mumbai alone
Despite these facts, locations of the existing landfills around the world remains unknown. There are no basic tools to facilitate a global approach to integrated solutions. Therefore, the Global Landfill Mapping Initiative (Help us choose an Acronym) aims to create an open-source interactive map of the of waste disposal sites around the world.