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.

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