Even in these modern days, it can seem like green energy is still a long ways off. While we do have several wind farms, solar power, and several similar options, people are constantly shouting that these options just don’t give enough power to make up for our current usage. Lately, however, the idea of Waste to Energy has been gaining a lot more traction in the modern eye. Some are still left wondering, however, just what Waste to Energy is.
How It Works
Waste to Energy works, at its most basic level, in a similar method to coal burning. Material is burned in a closed environment to heat up water in enormous boilers. This water boils and lets off steam which is siphoned off to spin turbines. In some cases, the steam is used directly instead of spinning turbines, but this is extremely rare. The turbines then produce electricity which goes into the power grid as normal. The only real difference between a coal burning plant and a waste to energy plant is its fuel source. While a coal plant burns coal, hence the name, a waste to energy plant instead burns organic waste. This single fact leads to a huge benefit for the environment.
What Makes It Better?
While coal plants require a mineral that we have a limited amount of to be ripped out of the earth and then shipped all over to function, waste to energy plants can run just fine set right next to any waste collection center. In theory, they could even be set next to landfills if your goal was to slowly start removing the waste from them. If enough waste to energy plants are set up with agreements from waste disposal groups, it could mean an enormous drop in the amount of waste that goes into landfills in the first place. After the waste is burned, all that’s left behind is ash. Specifically, about 1/5th of the waste would remain as ash. This ash is also sifted through to find any metal or other recyclable materials so that they don’t end up in a landfill. In a situation where the material that’s burned is completely organic, the ash can also be used as an input for things such as organic fertilizer. Of course, the benefit of slowly removing waste from landfills and decreasing their size is another one that definitely bears mention. After all, why simply slow a landfill’s growth if you can actually reverse said growth at the same time?
Are There Any Downsides?
There is one noticeable downside, but it’s not as large as you might initially think. Coal, as the easiest example, produces 2000 kwh (kilowatt hours) of energy for every metric ton of coal that’s burned. On the other side of things, waste to energy only produces 500 kwh for every ton of burned waste. This might seem like an enormous problem at first, but there’s two things to consider. One is that at least part of the extra energy from coal comes from the fact that it burns for so long by comparison to organic waste. That could be offset simply by burning waste more frequently, leading to less waste going into landfills overall. The other thing that could offset it is simply building a few more waste to energy plants than coal plants. That’s basically the only downside to using waste to energy over coal and, as you can see, it’s one that’s easily handled.
Derek is blogging for GoProWaste, a north New Jersey green dumpster rental company. He enjoys blogging about green energy, waste solutions, and biodegradable waste information.