Waste to energy plants – management issues and current practices

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Courtesy of NIIST[formerly RRL],TRIVANDRUM

Though open waste dumping has long back disappeared in the developed world ,it continues to be an eye-sore and environmental threat in many parts of the developing world. Landfills are becoming a common practice despite opposition from local community groups as well as NGOs for various reasons. However better equipped landfill facilities with provision for methane capture is being viewed as an attractive option in energy generation based on municipal waste. Incineration and thermal conversion technologies are seen as more costly and advanced options in most parts of the developing world, though there is an increasing trend towards its adoption, particularly because of the energy generation potential, in addition to the fact that conversion considerably reduces the bulk of the waste mass.

Waste-to energy facilities are being developed as part of an integrated solid waste management system. WTE facilities are capital intensive and technologically complex. Research efforts are afoot to bring down costs and make them technologically more competitive and some progress has been obtained mostly in the developed world..
For the developing world such facilities are essentially part of the overall infrastructure development calling for greater public-private partnerships with strategic alliances aimed at technology up gradation and funding support, involving developed country players.

Development of such facilities are however required in the developing country context as well given the energy requirements for development and the greater need to opt for carbon less routes to energy generation. In the developed parts of the world like Japan for example there is a plan to realize up to 30 percent of the energy from renewable sources including waste by the year 2030. In the developing world the timeline to have such a facility can be quite long, say 5-7 years or so, and the process need to pass through many bottle-necks including regulatory, financial, technological and environmental.

WTE can play an important role in helping municipalities manage their wastes in an environmentally sound manner. It reduces the demand for landfill while helping to meet an area’s energy needs. It provides a local waste disposal option that can also provide local benefits including jobs and services. Waste-to energy disposal definitely brings down green house gas emissions from degrading wastes or landfills though carbon capture can provide these advantages for landfills, though not so much preferred by local action groups.

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