Each year, Americans generate about 250 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste, or MSW—about 4.3 pounds per person per day. This includes “trash” such as kitchen waste, electronics, light bulbs, plastics, used tires and old paint, and yard waste. Despite significant increases in recycling and energy recovery, only about one-third of the total MSW is recovered—leaving the remaining two-thirds to be disposed of in landfills or incinerated. But these traditional methods of waste disposal are becoming less viable. Many states have banned incineration – or burning – of waste because of the negative environmental impacts. And a number of states, such as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and California, are faced with limited landfill space, forcing them to transport their MSW hundreds of miles for disposal in other states. In addition to consuming valuable land, the decomposing MSW generates methane, a greenhouse gas, and the leaching wastes may also pose a threat to surface water and groundwater.
Faced with the million-dollar problem of waste disposal, a growing number of municipalities are turning to gasification, a time-tested and environmentallysound way of converting the energy in MSW into useful products such as electricity, fertilizers, transportation fuels and chemicals. On average, conventional waste-to-energy plants that use mass-burn incineration 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 kilowatthours of electricity, a much more efficient and cleaner way to utilize this source of energy.