The ins and outs of WTE
WtE or Waste to Energy is a modern form of generating electricity by harnessing the power of your rubbish. The concept is not completely new, with evidence of ‘waste fuels’ found as far back as the late 1800’s in England. The modernised approach however involves state of the art machinery, a technological approach and higher quality output.
So where does WtE begin?
Before the process of WtE can begin, the input materials must first be collected and separated. This involves lorries full of waste arriving at the ReGen Waste treatment centre. Firstly, recyclables are separated as they will go on a different journey. This means materials such as glass, paper and aluminium are removed using state of the art technology. The leftovers consist of waste that will be incinerated and biodegradable waste, with the latter also removed at this point.
RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel)
At ReGen the waste that will be incinerated is then baled and prepared for transportation across Europe. This leftover material is called RDF, Refuse Derived Fuels, and it can be made from a mixture of different materials based on the customer needs. The fuel may seem primitive in that it is made from rubbish, but it must be made following strict European guidelines. The reasons for this include, environmental considerations, further recycling post-incineration and maintaining quality air standards.
In Europe there are concerns about the effect of incineration on recycling levels, interestingly however the countries recycling most also incinerate. In 2010, Belgium recycled 40% of their waste, they also incinerated 37% and sent just 1% to landfill.
Waste incineration is producing greater amounts of electricity as the process is modernised more and more. In Sweden, plants generate roughly 50MW of power for every 2,200 tonnes processed.
As well as reducing landfill levels incineration has other benefits. Waste volume is reduced by up to 95% after incineration plus some of what is left over in ashes can also be recycled. Also, waste incinerators generate large amounts of heat which can be transferred to heat nearby homes and businesses. The whole process is about getting as much from the materials fed in as possible.
WtE plants produce less toxins than would be found in a coal-fuelled power plant, and while they are expensive to build they spend much less on fuel. They do produce two types of ash, and once again they are strictly monitored in terms of output and potential risks. One of the ash types will find its way to landfill but the other will be partially recycled. Plants are also expected to monitor the odours they dispel to ensure a positive relationship in the communities where they are based.
Wte seems like it is in a good position for the future as more emerging economies turn to it to solve waste and energy problems. The BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and South Africa nations have developed their WtE output in recent years. Seen by many as a sustainable solution for waste disposal and energy demands, WtE is expected to grow in popularity over the next few years.
Plants such as ReGen have made the use of RDF possible and their technological savviness has seen waste exported that would have gone to landfill. Globally the trend to move away from landfill will surely see the practice become more and more common.