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Waste To Energy Plants

10th Jul 2014

An Overview 

Waste to Energy plants (WTE) have been in the news across the UK, from planning stages to being given the green light.

What is Waste to Energy and how is it achieved?

Simply, these types of plants take post-recycled solid waste, including household rubbish and burn it at a high temperature. This decreases the volume of the rubbish and helps generate heat and/or electricity.

However, it is not that simple. There are copious procedures and regulations to follow in order to maximise energy output and minimise waste and emission output. Surprisingly enough, waste to energy is a renewable source of energy. That’s why we need to look at the process of Waste to Energy.

When waste is delivered to the plant it is stored in a concrete bunker to minimise odour to those who are near the plant. The waste is then transferred by crane to a chamber, which is burnt by a self-sustaining combustion. Both the tipping and bunker area will have a negative pressure to ensure the control of odour.

The heat from the combustion would boil water that is stored above the chamber. This generates steam, which would spin the turbines to generate electricity. This can be converted and sent through the national grid to power homes and other buildings. The waste from everyone can then be pumped back into the Waste to Energy plant.

This is not the end of Waste to Energy plants; the ash that is left from the combustion chamber is processed to extract metals and secondary aggregate. These are used within construction projects.

All gases made from the combustion of waste are collected, filtered and cleaned before they are distributed into the atmosphere. Using air pollution control technology it monitors and complies with the rigorous air quality standards of today’s society. Any residue from these gases is sent for special treatment or to landfill. One way in which they filter the pollution is through a baghouse; a fabric filter. All other gases are monitored and checked to ensure they meet the correct standard of air quality. (Source: Convanta Energy)

We now know how this type of plant operates and functions but can it produce enough energy to ease our reliance on fossil fuels?

The state of Jersey in the Channel Islands has a Waste to Energy plant; they produce 100,000 tonnes of waste a year. Using a Waste to Energy plant this helps generate electricity for 8,000 homes (source: Energy To Waste Project)

Taking this into account, the UK waste every year is 228 million tonnes (source: gov.uk).

This means that we waste 2280 times more than Jersey. Therefore, if we had these plants running across the length and breadth of the UK we could, in theory, produce enough energy to power 18,240,000 homes. That is if we are able to build, and manage to use all waste in these plants.

Yes this is hopeful but it is achievable. Jersey already has a plant in operation. If we build more we can sustain landfill growth and get ever closer to a zero waste society that everyone wants to be.

Remember: Try not to become a man of success but a man of value. – Albert Einstein

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