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Unlocking the Energy Potential of the World’s Waste

Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014
Last Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014
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Latest technologies for converting energy from waste are being discussed at the 12th European Gasification Conference in The Netherlands.

Over 200 million tonnes of household waste is produced across the European Union (EU) each year - equivalent to 436 kg per EU citizen. Chemical engineers are leading the race to turn this waste into a valuable source of renewable energy.

In 2010, the 27 countries in the EU, with a population in excess of 500 million people, produced around 219 million tonnes of household waste - the equivalent of 436 kg of waste for every man, woman and child.

Municipal solid waste (MSW), which includes household, commercial and industrial waste, is suitable as a source of renewable energy because it contains high concentrations of carbon-based materials, such as paper and plastics. In the UK, it is estimated that around a third of all MSW could be converted into energy.

The methods of converting waste to energy have been known for a long time and include gasification, combustion and pyrolysis. In recent years the challenge for chemical engineers has been to produce energy in both an economical and more environmentally-friendly manner.

Significant progress has been made including the scheduled opening in 2014 of the world’s largest gasification plant, in the UK, capable of powering 50,000 homes from 350,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste each year.

Some of the latest novel technologies in development for converting energy from waste are being discussed in March at the 12th European Gasification Conference in The Netherlands, organized by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) and supported by DECHEMA.

One of the most interesting technologies being presented at conference is microwave-induced plasma (MIP) gasification - a high-temperature ionized gas that can be used to separate organic and inorganic materials during the energy conversion process.

MIP gasification is able to operate using less energy than conventionally-produced plasma gasification and has the potential to be operated on a much smaller scale - even at household level in the future. This can reduce distribution costs.

Conference organizer, Matt Stalker, at IChemE, said: “Global policies on waste management and the push towards generating energy from low carbon sources have brought issues like gasification to the top of the agenda in many countries. “The 12th European Gasification Conference brings all the latest development together under one roof. From governments, to policy-makers, to energy suppliers, it is an opportunity not to be missed.”

New Horizons in Gasification, the 12th European Gasification Conference, is being held on 10-13 March 2014, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

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