New renewable energy from waste tool to save time and money


Source: Cranfield University

Cranfield University has developed a new approach for calculating the potential renewable energy derived from waste material, prior to incineration, which could save time and money for the energy and waste industries.

The Government’s Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) scheme places an obligation on UK electricity suppliers to demonstrate the biomass content, or fraction, of mixed fuels and offers incentives for sourcing an increasing proportion of the electricity they supply to customers from renewable sources.

The current process for calculating the renewable (or ‘biogenic’) content of waste  requires either manual sorting of waste into individual components, which is extremely time consuming and carries issues regarding labour costs and health and safety concerns, or analysis of the flue gas using specialist equipment for carbon dating, which is costly and can only be calculated retrospectively.

landfill site

This new method uses an image analysis tool alongside microwave analysis. When placed above a conveyor belt in a waste treatment facility, it is able to accurately determine the composition of a mixed waste material and subsequently calculate how much renewable energy is derived from each individual component in the waste stream.

Dr Stuart Wagland, Lecturer in Renewable Energy from Waste at Cranfield University, commented: “The system enables greater operator control over the fuels, allowing for blending to optimise the biogenic (renewable) content and the overall calorific value, or energy released on combustion.”

As well as saving time and money for the waste industry, the tool will enable energy suppliers to accurately prove the amount of biogenic material - waste made up of materials produced by living organisms or biological processes such as paper, certain textiles and food waste - in each load of mixed waste materials that will produce renewable energy through combustion.

It is thought that some 200m tonnes of waste produced each year in England alone could be converted to energy with the potential to supply up to 4% of the UK’s electricity and water heating needs.

The research has attracted interest in the private sector, and work is now being planned, in collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory, to further develop the tools and test them with a number of feedstocks in a range of waste handling facilities.


Developed by Cranfield University with funding from the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Energy at Cranfield:
Cranfield has over 160 academic and research staff engaged in research and teaching in energy and transport technologies. Close engagement with the energy and transport sectors over the last 20 years has produced long standing strategic partnerships with Airbus, Alstom Power, BAE Systems, Boeing, BP, Doosan Babcock, Ford, Shell and Siemens, among others. Our institutional strength is in low carbon energy supply, power generation, advanced fossil fuel technologies and transport systems. Activity ranges from offshore renewables, the production and clean utilisation of fossil fuels, through micro-generation and the use of energy crops, to the design of lightweight vehicles, turbine technology and the utilisation of wastes as fuel.

About Cranfield University:
Cranfield University is a wholly postgraduate institution with a worldwide reputation for excellence and expertise in aerospace, automotive, defence, engineering, environment and water, health, management and manufacturing. As the UK’s most business-engaged University, and led by research which is applied to real life situations, we are world-leading in our contribution to global innovation. For more information visit:

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