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Waste Reduction

Why we should turn waste into fuel

In Europe, waste-to-energy plays a major role in the waste industry. In Europe, there is a high demand for heat. This means that efficient waste incinerators with tight controls are very common. Australia is a new market with low community acceptance, and no government policies are encouraging its adoption.

The federal announcement, along with a parliamentary inquiry in New South Wales and several projects that are in the pipeline, signals a growing interest in waste-to-energy and waste-to-fuels.

What is solid waste fuel, and how does it fit into a sustainable waste management future in Australia?

Solid waste fuels are what?

Australians are becoming wasteful. Our waste production is increasing faster than our population and economy.

Over the last 20 years, recycling has been the primary method of recovering resources and reducing waste. But there is still much more to do.

Waste-to-energy is one part of the solution. Using a variety of thermal and biological processes, energy is captured in waste, allowing it to be used for direct heat generation, electricity production, or solid fuel production.

Paper, plastic, wood scraps, or textiles can all be used to make briquettes. Dario Sablijak/Shutterstock

Waste-to-fuel plants create fuels using combustible materials (which are energy-rich). These can be found in household and industrial waste. Materials that can be used include wood waste, textiles, non-recyclable paper, plastics, and plastics. All of these materials end up in landfills.

The materials should be sourced primarily from recycling plants that currently dispose of contaminated material that cannot be recycled.

Different treatment methods are used to produce solid waste fuels of specified quality. This includes drying, shredding, and compressing the fuel pellets or briquettes. Powers can also be tailored to suit different applications, such as industrial heating. They are, therefore, a good alternative to fossil fuels.

Solid waste fuels are used for what?

Solid waste fuels can be used to produce electricity that has a lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels.

Solid waste fuels are used in other industries that require high-temperature heat, such as cement works in Australia and all over the world. It may be possible to use them in other energy-intensive sectors, like metals recycling or manufacturing industrial chemicals.

Fuel pellets can be made from waste and used to generate energy. charm/Shutterstock

What are the main benefits?

Solid waste fuels have a major environmental impact due to the reduction of landfill emissions and fossil fuel usage.

In landfills, biodegradable carbon sources break down and produce methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas with a warming capacity 25 times greater than carbon dioxide. Technology exists to capture and convert landfill gases into energy. However, waste-to-fuel is an additional measure that helps limit landfills in the first place.

The carbon footprint of waste-derived fuels can be smaller than that of fossil fuels. The carbon content and the source of the fuel (such as wood, paper or natural fibers) will determine the carbon footprint. Although carbon dioxide is released when the fuel burns, it is partially offset by the carbon captured by plants that originally produced the materials.

Solid waste fuels can be eligible for certificates of renewable energy. Closed-loop technologies that are more advanced achieve better carbon balances. They do this by capturing carbon dioxide when the fuels are used. It can be used in other processes requiring carbon dioxide, like growing fruits and vegetables.

The management of wastes like treated wood, car tyres, and plastics can provide additional environmental benefits. By converting them into fuel, you can prevent the release of harmful substances and other problems into the environment.

Arma banchang/Shutterstock

What are the challenges facing us?

The public health is a legitimate concern when it comes to energy recovery. Burning solid fuels can cause harmful emissions such as sulphur oxides, nitrous dioxides, and particulates. These emissions can be controlled with the help of solid regulations and the latest pollution control technology.

Energy recovery is also a concern for the recycling industry, as it could undermine recycling efforts by diverting waste streams. Solid waste fuel imports from other European countries are so important for Sweden that they even import garbage .

These challenges highlight the importance of creating regulations that balance existing recycling processes with the requirements of the infrastructure. Waste-to-fuel, with careful planning, can be an integral part of a broader strategy to transition towards a future without landfills.

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Jane S. King

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