There is energy in the sun, wind, water, earth’s interior, and the animals and vegetation that cling to its surface.
Less sexy and most likely discussed over low voices is energy from us. This is not to recommend hooking us up with electrodes and connecting ourselves to the grid. But below the surface, energy lies in our behavior and activities. This is not to say a change in behavior is warranted but the strain we put on all that sustains us deserves serious consideration and alleviation.
In context to this discussion, our lifestyle produces waste or better known as garbage. To the aid of burgeoning environmental problems, the scientific community has developed technologies that can convert waste into energy. In the strictest sense, waste-to-energy refers to any waste treatment that creates energy in the form of heat, electricity or a combustible fuel commodity (methane, methanol, ethanol, diesel, or synthetic fuels, etc.) from a waste source that would have been disposed of in a landfill.
As terminology has great impact on perception and swaying public opinion, it’s suggested that the phrase “Behavioral Energy Source,” a more elegant and socially correct term, be used in place of the word garbage and solid waste. Technocrats to city managers may be more comfortable attending and reporting on a Behavioral Energy conference than one titled “waste-to-energy”, with the provision that the event is energy rather than psychologically oriented.
The business of waste management is far from new. In “The History of Waste,” Roberta Crowell Barbalace, indicates that the science of garbology uncovered four basic means of dealing with trash as far back as 6,500 BC: dumping, burning, recycling, and waste minimization (see the following chart).
|A Timeline of Trash|
|6,500 BC||North America||Archeological studies shows a clan of Native Americans in what is now Colorado produced an average of 5.3 pounds of waste a day.|
|500 BC||Athens Greece||First municipal dump in western world organized. Regulations required waste to be dumped at least a mile from the city limits.|
|New Testament of Bible||Jerusalem Palestine||The Valley of Gehenna also called Sheoal in the New Testament of the Bible “Though I descent into Sheol, thou art there.” Sheoal was apparently a dump outside of the city of that periodically burned. It became synonymous with “hell.”|
|1388||England||English Parliament bars waste dispersal in public waterways and ditches.|
|1400||Paris France||Garbage piles so high outside of Paris gates that it interferes with city defense.|
|1690||Philadelphia||Rittenhouse Mill, Philadelphia makes paper from recycled fibers (waste paper and rags).|
|1842||England||A report links disease to filthy environmental conditions – “age of sanitation” begins.|
|1874||Nottingham England||A new technology called “the Destructor” provided the first systematic incineration of refuse in Nottingham, England. Until this time, much of the burning was accidental, a result of methane production.|
|1885||Governor’s Island NY||The first garbage incinerator was built in USA (on Governor’s Island in NY)|
|1889||Washington DC||Washington DC reported that we were running out of appropriate places for refuse (sound familiar?).|
|1896||United States||Waste reduction plants arrive in US. (for compressing organic wastes). Later closed because of noxious emissions.|
|1898||New York||NY has first rubbish sorting plant for recycling (are we reinventing the wheel?).|
|Turn of Century||By the turn of the century the garbage problem was seen as one of the greatest problems for local authorities.|
|1900||“Piggeries” were developed to eat fresh or cooked garbage (In the mid-50’s an outbreak of vesicluar exenthama resulted in the destruction of 1,000s of pigs that had eaten raw garbage. Law passed requiring that garbage had to be cooked before it could be fed to swine).|
|1911||New York City||NYC citizens were producing 4.6 pounds of refuse a day (remember the Native Americans from 6500 BC mentioned above?).|
|1914||United States||there were about 300 incinerators in the US for burning trash.|
|1920’s||Landfills were becoming a popular way of reclaiming swamp land while getting rid of trash.|
|1954||Olympia Washington||Olympia Washington pays for return of aluminum cans.|
|1965||United States||The first federal solid waste management laws were enacted.|
|1968||By 1968 companies began buy back recycling of containers.|
|1970||United States||The first Earth Day was celebrated, the Environmental Protection Agency EPA created and the Resource Recovery Act enacted.|
|1976||United States||In 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was created emphasizing recycling and HW management. This was the result of two major events: the oil embargo and the discovery (or recognition) of Love Canal.|
|1979||United States||The EPA issued criteria prohibiting open dumping.|
Source: “The History of Waste,” Roberta Crowell Barbalace
The use of Behavioral Energy Sources for power generation is surprisingly a relatively new science, given the obvious amount of heat and noxious gases produced by incineration. Incineration- the combustion of organic material- that goes back to 1874, lay dormant as a source of energy until about 20 years ago, when Sweden started using the energy generated from incineration.
Today, there is an emerging array of new and improved thermal and non-thermal waste-to-energy non-combustion conversion processes. The primary driver for advancing the technology is the need to reduce the generation of secondary and hazardous combustion byproducts such as particulates, heavy metals, trace dioxin and acid gas emissions, toxic fly ash and incinerator bottom ash. Once these byproducts are removed, higher combustion temperatures and improved efficiencies (amount of power produced from any given amount of Behavioral Energy Source), can be achieved with advanced boilers, gas turbines, internal combustion engines, and fuel cells.
These emerging technologies include:
- Gasification (produces combustible gas, hydrogen, synthetic fuels)
- Thermal depolymerization (produces synthetic crude oil, which can be further refined)
- Pyrolysis (produces combustible tar/bio-oil and chars)
- Plasma arc gasification or plasma gasification process also known as PGP (produces rich syngas (synthetic gas) including hydrogen and carbon monoxide usable for fuel cells or generating electricity to drive the plasma arch, usable vitrified silicate and metal ingots, salt and sulphur)
- Anaerobic digestion (Biogas rich in methane)
- Fermentation production (examples are ethanol, lactic acid, hydrogen)
- Mechanical biological treatment + Anaerobic digestion
- MBT to Refuse derived fuel
The growth projections vary from EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2011 report, which projects stagnant growth of municipal solid waste to energy in the U.S. through 2035, to SBI Energy- a leading market research firm- which reported in their March 10, 2011 report, ‘Thermal and Digestion Waste-to-Energy Technologies Worldwide‘ that:
- “….. Worldwide waste to energy market expansion expected through 2021; industry to reach $27 billion.”
- “….. waste to energy technologies — incineration, gasification, plasma gasification, pyrolysis, and anaerobic digestion — provide a convenient solution to many of these waste management issues, that the market will grow at a rate of about 11% through 2021”
- ‘….. global market for waste-to-energy technologies has evidenced substantial growth over the last five years, increasing from $5 billion in 2006, to $7 billion in 2010 and was unaffected throughout the global economic downturn.”
- “….. growth trends are expected to continue for the industry, led by expansion in the U.S., European, Chinese, and Indian markets.”
In closing, society has found a solution it can’t live without. Not only does Behavioral Energy solve a major local issue but makes good business sense.
Written by Dr. Barry Stevens, an accomplished business developer and entrepreneur in technology-driven enterprises. He is the founder of TBD America Inc., a technology business development group. In this role, he is responsible for leading technology driven enterprises through ideation, development and commercialization. To read his first article on Behavioral Energy Sources, “The Garbage Rush Is On! – There is Gold (Energy) in Them There Dumps,” please visit: http://tinyurl.com/barry-stevens181
Tags: anaerobic digestion, biomass, gasification, geothermal, green, hydroelectric, incineration, MSW, municipal solid waste, plasma gasification, pyrolysis, renewable, solar, solid waste, sustainable, trash, waste to energy, wind