Is Waste Gasification the Future of Waste Management?

About 130 million tons of waste per year go into landfills in the U.S, producing at least 130 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions. Most of these emissions come in the form of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Landfills aren’t just an eye sore of growing piles of waste; they can also be a major source of pollution. They emit by-products like dioxins and leachate (a toxic liquid that is formed when waste breaks down in the landfill and filters through waste), which, when left untreated, can leach into the soil, contaminating water sources, plants and even food for future generations. Landfill sites are becoming increasingly costly and require expert management well after they have reached their capacity and beyond when their useful life is over.

Relying on landfills is becoming increasingly costly as well as being environmentally questionable. Tipping fees—the price charged to drop off waste at a landfill—can exceed $100 per ton in some parts of the US.

In short, sending waste to landfill isn’t a great long-term business strategy from a financial or environmental perspective.

What’s the Alternative?

Faced with the costly problem of waste disposal and the need for more energy, a growing number of countries are turning to Waste Gasification, which converts the energy in waste into useful products such as electricity, fertilizers, transportation fuels and chemicals.

What Exactly is Waste Gasification?

Waste gasification is a thermo-chemical waste-to-energy conversion technology. The process produces a usable synthesis gas, or syngas that can be combusted to make either thermal or electrical energy.

Gasification – Even Better than Incineration (WtE)?

On average, conventional incineration waste-to-energy (WtE) plants can convert one ton of MSW to about 550 kilowatt-hours of electricity.  With gasification technology, one ton of MSW can be used to produce up to 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, a much more efficient way to utilize this source of energy.

Incineration uses MSW as a fuel, burning it with high volumes of air to form carbon dioxide and heat. In a waste-to-energy plant that uses incineration, these hot gases are used to make steam, which is then used to generate electricity.

Gasification converts MSW to a usable synthesis gas, or syngas. It is the production of this syngas which makes gasification so different from incineration. In the gasification process, the MSW isn’t just a fuel, but a feedstock for a high temperature chemical conversion process. Instead of producing just heat and electricity, the syngas produced by gasification can be turned into higher value commercial products such as transportation fuels, chemicals and fertilizers, and can be used as a substitute for natural gas.

New Gasification Plants Are Under Construction

The InEnTec plant in Oregon takes waste and uses plasma gasification to convert it into high-purity hydrogen for use in industry and fuel cell batteries. The plant has the potential to make 1,500 kilograms of hydrogen a day, roughly enough to fuel 2,500 cars for the average daily commute, handling up to 150 tons of waste a day — waste that might otherwise be landfilled.

Enerkem® is using one of the most advanced gasification technologies. The firm’s process converts garbage and industrial waste into synthesis gas that is then catalyzed to methanol and ethanol for use as fuel or a chemical feedstock.

Red Rock Biofuels links gasification with catalysis to make jet fuel, diesel, and naphtha using wood leftovers from sawmill and logging operations.

Aries Clean Energy is developing gasification projects that convert sludge from water treatment plants and agricultural waste into electricity and a soil amendment known as biochar.

How Businesses Can Benefit by Utilizing Waste Gasification

Gasification is a relatively new waste treatment process at the commercial level, and most operational plants are currently focused on special wastes that have very high disposal costs.

However, as more plants are developed and the processing costs fall, gasification may become a vital part of a business’ waste management strategy. The environmental benefits of gasification surpass those of conventional WtE through incineration, and this may boost government support and funding for the technology.

Considering the environmental benefits of gasification, together with the beneficial by-products it can create, businesses will have the opportunity to reduce their environmental impact significantly by sending their waste to a gasification plant rather than to landfill.

If your business measures its carbon footprint, has sustainability targets, completes ESG reporting, or just wants to make its operations less environmentally impactful, then diverting as much waste as possible from landfill is an important step to make. Switching the destination of your waste away from landfill requires no alteration to an organization’s waste operations, and as such can make an instantaneous impact while other resource minimization strategies are being worked on.

Utilizing treatment processes like gasification alongside a conventional recycling program can then enable businesses to achieve zero-to-landfill status, which makes for a valuable marketing tool both for winning new contracts and new investors.

As landfill charges continue to increase and gasification technologies become more cost effective, there may be significant long-term cost saving opportunities, depending on the composition of your waste stream and other factors.

NWA Sources the Best Treatment Technologies for Your Waste

National Waste Associates (NWA) uses its vast hauler network to identify and utilize the most cost-effective and environmentally beneficial treatment methodology for your waste, for each location in your portfolio.

As gasification plants come online, we will identify the haulers that are able to send the greatest proportion of your waste to these facilities, where this is financially and environmentally optimal for your business.

NWA has no affiliations with landfill sites, unlike the national haulers who also own landfill facilities. Instead, our model is to work with haulers who are truly independent and agnostic to which disposal sites they utilize. This is a key differentiator that enables our customers to capitalize on these new processing opportunities, while maximizing their savings.

Gasification will only ever be one part of a strategy to reduce the environmental impact of your waste operations. That’s why NWA also constantly analyses the composition of your waste stream to identify opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle more materials, diverting them from the waste stream entirely.

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