Author: Dan Nienhauser
Energy Review, Vol 4. Issue 10. 2022
Currently, the energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental impact levels, and the availability and sustainable use of materials are all hot topics. In the wake of climate change and the need to decarbonize, there is an urgent need for change, particularly in the way humans handle municipal solid waste (MSW). In addition to reducing waste generated and recycling what can be processed, "repurposing" offers a substantial opportunity to both reduce landfill waste while increasing lower carbon energy production. The waste produced by one process becomes the fuel for another, a cleaner form of energy. Waste disposal today negatively impacts the availability of land for more productive uses and local health, as well as ignoring an economically viable energy source. We still use old technology to reduce and recycle waste, and landfills have become difficult to manage, with some regions unable to affordably recycle. Certain green-labelled waste disposal technologies aren't green, certain regulations are based on vested interests, and some green technologies are lumped in with similar toxic approaches due to outdated regulations. Heat treatment technologies, frequently lumped in with incineration because they heat up the waste (pyrolysis, gasification) are two technologies that are recognized by the scientific community worldwide as viable sustainability solutions. Waste disposal technologies have been adapted from pyrolysis technologies already used for other materials since the 1970s. During pyrolysis, complex molecules such as gums, plastics, starches, cellulosic compounds, and other organic compounds are broken down into simpler molecules. By heating materials at high temperatures without oxygen (no materials are burned), molecular transformation occurs - a chemical decomposition. For example, by decomposing mixed non-recycled plastics, low-carbon petroleum-based fuels, electricity, and hydrogen can be produced. A pyrolysis-based waste transformation facility can now be built safely and profitably. Even in areas with fewer than 100,000 residents, waste can be converted into fuel and electricity. Despite criticism that it perpetuates the climate crisis by creating petroleum blends from waste, this decentralized approach significantly reduces fossil fuels' carbon footprint by eliminating a large part of the journey – all of the carbon emissions associated with extracting oil from the ground, transporting it to refineries, and delivering it to the customer are no longer relevant. Electricity or hydrogen can also be generated by these systems, depending on community needs.Using modular system designs that capture and reuse excess heat and energy, technologies are available that improve mass energy balance. Besides improving economics and construction methods, modular flexibility enables future adjustments to outputs to increase facility longevity as needed.
(Mr. Dan Nienhauser is the Co-founder and COO of Stellar3, Arizona, USA, a new waste management company that offers carbon-neutral circular energy solutions.) ■□■