WASTE-TO-ENERGY: Energy from residual waste

According to recent data published by Eurostat, 489kg of domestic waste was generated per capita in the European countries in 2019. This figure is slightly down compared to previous years and will have to be further reduce through new environmental policies defined in the “European Green Deal” launched in early 2021. This ambitious plan aims for the development of a new circular economy of waste management, where reuse and recycling are in first place, leaving room for incineration of that range of waste that is not covered by policies with a lower environmental impact. Landfills, on the other hand, have a very high environmental impact and are incompatible with sustainable waste management. Suffice it to say that in the waste management cycle, landfills are responsible for 75% of total greenhouse gas emissions (source ISPRA data of 2018).

But no matter how much we incentivize waste reuse and recycling policies, we will always come to a point where a given material has no longer the minimum qualities to be processed and reused. This is where Waste to Energy comes into play, for all those dead materials and waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. Research, development and new technologies has turned the old waste-to-energy plant into a modern, high-performance power station with a low environmental impact. According to CEWEP data, there were 492 active WTE plants in Europe at the end of 2018, able to dispose 96 million tonnes of waste each year. Contrary to popular belief, these plants make a significant contribution to decarbonising the atmosphere. In fact, they considerably reduce the waste disposal in landfills and at the same time replace, even if in a small part, the use of fossil fuels for the production of electricity and heat.

The operation of a waste-to-energy plant is divided into three main sections: combustion chamber, gas flue purification section and energy recovery section. A waste-to-energy plant generates gaseous, solid and liquid emissions. Before being released into the atmosphere gas flue undergo a treatment with the aim of considerably reducing the concentration of pollutants. These filtration plants are extremely complex and play a key role in ensuring compliance with emission limits imposed by regulations.

Tama Aernova researches and develops ever more innovative solutions and today, with its Gas Flue Cleaning System is able to guarantee emission values at the limit of the measurable threshold. As regards emissions reduction, European regulation establishes that Waste to Energy plants refer to BAT (Best Available Techniques), i.e. the best technologies available on an industrial scale. For Tama Aernova, research is therefore a fundamental factor in guaranteeing quality and competitiveness in a rapidly developing market, where competition is based on reliability, experience and technological innovation.

But what is the role of Waste-to-energy plants relating to air quality? Analysis and simulations show that for latest generation plants managed according to regulations, the effects are generally to be considered very limited, both in relation to background levels of the settlement areas and to the values of air quality standards. Summing up this brief consideration, the data emerged tells us that waste-to-energy is probably the most suitable solution to support the green transition. The culture of non-proliferation of waste, reuse and recycling remain the practices to be followed and promoted at a global level. But these policies must be supported by a system able to dispose dead waste, limiting more and more the use of landfills and returning energy, heat and fuels with low environmental impact to the system. Meanwhile, Tama Aernova with its team dedicated to high-impact projects continues to do research and develop to offer ever more customised and high-performance solutions.  

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