Britain would start exporting domestic waste converted into fuel pellets to mainland Europe as it struggles to recycle the growing amount of household waste.
The generation of domestic waste seems to have exceeded the capacity of the British municipalities to recycle them. In addition, with limited land the solution of landfills is also completely exhausted. Thus the municipalities have decided to turn the domestic waste into fuel pellets and export them to neighboring countries like Germany and Holland.
Europe is a big importer of energy resources which has been proved to be a major strategic thorn in the recent past. Russia consistently flexed its muscles by refusing to supply gas to Europe. This pushed the EU to prepare plans for an unprecedented project in the African Sahara.
The European Union, in collaboration with some north African countries would set up huge solar thermal and PV power plants in the Sahara deserts. These plants would supply power to Europe and the African countries. The plan is to be extended to the Arab countries in the future. But this project seems technologically and economically unachievable. Therefore, a more realistic and reliable source of energy is required. Enter, domestic waste.
Britain is struggling to recycle or landfill its domestic waste which has made the household waste, consisting of mainly recyclable organic matter, an potential energy resource. Municipalities would convert this household waste into dense fuel pellets through a series of conversion processes like densification, removal of water and pressing. The resulting pellets can be directly used to generate heat which can then be used directly for heating purposes or convert water into steam to run a steam turbine for power generation.
Domestic waste as an energy resource has not received the importance it deserves. In developing countries these energy conversion processes have been in use for quite sometime, owing to their economic benefits. However, in EU, which possibly has the strictest environmental laws, use of domestic waste as fuel is not a major trend. Actually it is illegal to export waste to other countries.
But through this project the energy value of the resource would be upgraded to a level from which significant benefits can be exploited. In absence of recycling or landfilling this seems to be the only viable solution. Although it is one of the simplest and modest processes, it does convert waste into a higher quality product in terms of energy utilization.
Many environmentalists, however, see it as another source of carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere. The question is then what do we do about this unused waste which actually has significant energy content. The solution could lie in the refinement of the conversion processes of this waste into fuel pellets.
Domestic waste can become a major source of energy if the conversion processes are made more ‘environmental-friendly’, that is, engineered and modified in such a way that the net energy content is increased while the potential of carbon emissions decreases. Modifications may include further treatment of waste before being turned into fuel pellets or using microbial action to modify the waste’s properties to reduce its final carbon footprint.
It is clear that the waste production would increase tremendously as the population increases and recycling and using landfills for its disposal cannot provide a complete solution. Thus if we could develop better ways of making use of waste as energy source in an environment-friendly process, a whole new dimension could be added to the concept of energy independence.
Hat tip: Telegraph
Image: Ari Herzog (Flickr)/ Creative Commons
The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.
Mridul Chadha currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.