The resurgence of waste-to-energy and conversion technologies: Where’s the risk?

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Courtesy of Waste Advantage Magazine

Waste processing technologies have come a long way in the last century. The technology to extract energy from the combustion of solid waste has been in use since 1898, when the first waste-toenergy (WTE) facility was built in New York. Since that time, WTE technologies have evolved from incinerators that were simply destruction units to large-scale mass-burn combustion and refuse-derived fuel (RDF) facilities that recover steam, electricity and non-combustible recyclable materials from municipal solid waste (MSW).

Although no new MSW-processing WTE facilities have been built in the United States since 1996, there is currently a resurgence of interest in mass-burn combustion and emerging conversion technologies. The reasons: WTE’s solid track record as a proven technology, an increase in fossil fuel costs, restoration of flow control, concerns about greenhouse gases, EPA’s more positive approach to WTE and requirements that electric utilities meet a portion of demand through renewable energy.

What are some of the emerging conversion technologies and how do they compare with mass-burn combustion and RDF? Are they commercially viable options for cities, counties and regional authorities? What companies are taking the lead? What, if any, are the risks of these new processing methods?

This article provides some answers, based on a comprehensive review of WTE and conversion technologies. The growing list of companies we track currently numbers 469: 257 in the United States, 46 in Canada, 136 in Europe and 30 in other countries. Table 1, page 37 breaks down the company list by Technology.

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