Municipal Solid Waste to Energy – A Valuable Resource for Renewable Energy

Waste-to-energy technologies refer to any waste treatment method that generates energy in the form of heat, electricity, or some form of fuel from waste sources. Waste-to-energy technologies do not only turn an entirely useless product into an economical source of usable energy, they also make the process of waste disposal manageable and easy by reducing the amount of waste that goes into landfills.

From semi-solid, solid, to liquid and gaseous waste, waste-to-energy technologies can be applied to a variety of kinds of waste products to recover the energy in them. It is, however, the conversion of municipal solid waste (MSW) to energy that is currently garnering huge attention on a global front. With an increased amount of research and development being currently observed in the field of municipal solid waste to energy, it is projected that this sector will amount to a substantial share in the overall energy mix in the future.

What is MSW and How Is It Different from Waste?

Municipal solid waste contains a large variety of waste products disposed and rejected from households, industries, parks, hospitals, private and government buildings and streets, and may contain entities such as recyclables (glass, paper, metals, plastics, etc.), toxic substances (medicines, paints, used batteries, pesticides, etc.), soiled waste (disposable syringes, bloodstained cotton, etc.), and compostable organic matter (food waste, fruits and vegetable peels, etc.), and much more.

With proper treatment, processing, and mechanical segregation of organic waste, it is possible to generate sufficient energy by employing a proper waste to energy technology. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that nearly 1.5 MW can be generated from 100 tonnes of raw municipal solid waste with 50-60% organic material.

Potential of MSW in Becoming a Sustainable Resource for Energy Production

A study published by the World Bank in 2012 states that on an average, 1.3 billion tonnes of MSW is generated every year across the globe. This corresponds to an average of 1.2 kg of MSW per person per day. The study also states that the amount of municipal solid waste will grow at a rate faster than the rate of urbanization in the coming decades and reach 2.2 bn tonnes per year by 2025 and 4.2 bn tonnes per year by 2050.

The rate of generation of MSW is greatly influenced by economic development, public habits, degree of industrialization, and the local climate. As a general trend, the higher the degree of industrialization and economic development, the higher the amount of MSW generated. These days, more than 50% of the entire world’s population resides in urban settings. The mounting global population, the high rate of spread of urbanization, and economic development of developing countries are substantially adding to the world’s MSW generation capacity.

For the proper management of all this waste and the efficient control of its effects of polluting the environment and affecting climate change, municipal waste can easily become a valuable resource in the sustainable energy mix of the future. What makes MSW a much more attractive investment than other fuels is the fact that it is obtained at zero or nominal prices, contrary to other fuels for power generation, which need substantial funds.


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