Waste for Energy Generation: A Slippery Slope?

Wed, 2013-08-28 08:40

Copenhagen, Denmark is adding a new landmark to its city skyline. A new waste-to-energy (WTE) power plant doubling as an urban ski slope will be built along the waterfront. The power plant is part of the city’s commitment to reduce fossil fuel energy production. In place of coal or oil, WTE power plants use incinerators to burn trash, which creates enough heat to run steam turbines.

WTE power plants are somewhat controversial from an environmental perspective because of their substantial carbon emissions. This new power plant will emit about 200,000 tons annually. However, those in support of the power plant claim that about 50% of the trash being burned is biowaste, a renewable fuel source, and therefore WTE power plants are much cleaner than traditional fossil fuel power plants. The other main argument for WTE plants is that if the trash isn’t burned, it will be decomposing in a landfill somewhere.

The landfill may not sound like an unfavorable option; however, decomposing trash releases methane that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of heat storing capacity for greenhouse gases. Each year, the plant will incinerate around 73 million tons of garbage, significantly reducing the need for landfill space. More impressively, a study by Swedish consulting firm Profu found that every metric ton of waste burned for energy prevented the emission of 600 kilograms of carbon emissions from landfills.

While there is still a dire need for improved waste management methods, WTE power plants, which have been around since the late 90s, appear to be an interesting alternative to current landfill methods.

By Peter J. Bock & Nolan Canter


Related Blogs

Request Information

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.