The history of waste to energy
Waste has been burnt for hundreds of years, predominantly as a way to reduce the size and amount of rubbish sent to landfill.
The first waste incineration plant was built back in the Victorian era, when the UK was in the middle of the industrial revolution. Its purpose was simply to dispose of waste. There was a lot of it, and – as always – space in landfills was limited.
There was no thought given to the churning out of dirty smoke and chemicals – this was the industrial era. Waste incineration carried on like this for much of the 20th century, with the main aim being to reduce waste in size as much as possible, and then send to landfill.
Harnessing its energy wasn’t given much thought. But in the 1990s, we started to see a shift in thinking and a change in government policies moving forward. The goal became to reduce landfill, recycle more and generate low carbon energy sources.
Modern waste to energy incineration: What is it?
Today, the focus is on harnessing the energy that’s left in waste. This waste stream – usually referred to as Municipal Solid Waste or Mixed Residual Waste – is waste that cannot be reused or recycled. It’s waste that has had any possible recyclable material extracted and would be going to landfill. It’s a lot of household waste. In a landfill, the energy contained within this waste would simply dissipate over time, lost as methane gases into the atmosphere.
But by incinerating this waste, we can capture its calorific value and convert that into usable energy. Energy that otherwise would have been wasted. This is primarily done through a heat exchange process, where the water is heated to generate steam, which then drives turbines to make electricity. Increasingly however, smaller and more innovative incinerators are focused on diverse energy types, generating combined heating power and hot water outputs.
It’s important to note:
Modern incinerators are completely different to any older incineration systems. They are highly efficient, with improvements and innovations being made all the time. And they meet the strictest of emission standards.
Overcoming misconceptions around gas emissions
Incineration is often seen by those unaware of its technological advancements as a ‘bad’ process, one that conjures images of large plants emitting plumes of dark, dangerous smoke into the air. This is simply not the case. In fact, the majority of incinerator systems are small, clean and highly efficient. Government research, independently verified by Public Health England, has found that any impacts on health from incinerator emissions are unlikely to exist, and if they did, they would be extremely small and negligible.
Emissions standards in the UK and EU are extremely tight, and incinerators must meet strict limits on waste gases. Modern, well managed waste to energy incinerators “contribute only a small fraction of both local and national particulate and other emissions”. Inciner8 incinerators meet all rigorous global standards on emissions, and are modern, efficient and most importantly – safe.
Why invest in WtE incineration?
As any business who deals with waste disposal knows, costs are increasing. Landfill sites are in high demand, and capacity is limited. The cost to dispose of waste in a landfill is skyrocketing, and many companies will struggle to cope with these rises. They need to rethink their business operations. Converting waste to energy – on-site and efficiently – is one way to do this. Government advice on the issue encourages it. One study found that with high efficiency plants and incinerators, and the right content in the waste streams (high calorific, renewable, biodegradable), it is the best option.
That’s because energy generated from incineration is better for the environment and climate change than sending waste to a landfill where greenhouse gases are released. It’s also important because recycling isn’t as efficient as we think. Due to crosscontamination or incorrect materials, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste sorted in homes and offices for recycling will still get sent to landfill. So until we can reduce and recycle more, converting waste to energy remains an important part of waste management.
What do you need?
In order to generate energy from waste effectively, you need:
- An efficient incinerator – they vary in size from small and portable to large, industrial scale. We have a range of options to suit small businesses.
- Sorted waste – any waste streams should be organised efficiently, removing any metals and stones that can’t be combusted, and sorting materials that can be
- Shredded waste – another way to increase efficiencies is to reduce waste in size prior to incineration
- Biodegradable components – adding renewable materials like wood, food and paper to a waste stream can maximise energy output
- Low moisture waste – the drier the waste stream is, the less heat is required for combustion
The benefits of harnessing energy from waste (EfW)
There are several different benefits to converting waste to energy, and many reasons why businesses are embracing incineration for EfW purposes.
- It reduces waste disposal costs in the long run, as smaller amounts will be sent to landfill
- It’s considered to be a partly renewable, low carbon source of fuel, as municipal solid waste is partly composed of organic materials like food, wood and paper. So the burning of any organic, biodegradable materials is classed as renewable
- It’s better for the environment, compared with the greenhouse gas emissions from landfill sites
- It’s a reliable source of energy, that’s on-demand and non-intermittent, unlike solar or wind power
- It’s reduces costs and reliance on other energy providers, as you have you own, secure source on-site.
- There are government grants and incentives to apply for, so you could be paid for burning waste efficiently
Waste To Energy Terminology
WtE – Waste to Energy, a term used to describe the process
EfW – Energy from Waste, another industry abbreviation
Municipal Solid Waste – the typical waste stream from households, that cannot be reused
Mixed Residual Waste – another term for the mixture of waste materials from general
residential and business properties
Refuse Derived Fuel – a common name given to energy captured from incinerating waste
Waste hierarchy – the structure by which society should aim to process their waste, in order of priority. It is:
Waste to energy incineration falls under the recovery section, as it’s capturing energy back before waste is disposed.
What to look for in a WtE incinerator
To ensure you get the best outcomes from your waste to energy set-up, you need to make sure you choose the best, most efficient incinerator for your needs. This will depend on several different factors, including size, location and your type of waste stream.
But any incinerator you pick should:
- Meet all emissions standards
- Be easy to operate
- Be efficient in its incineration
- Be long-lasting and low maintenance
- Fit your requirements
Our expert team can help advise you on the best types of waste to energy incinerators for your needs. We can offer a range of sizes and designs, with many solutions adaptable to your existing system.
We can also advise you on other Advanced Thermal Treatment Solutions to help you get the most from your waste streams.Click here for related articles and news
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Inciner8 are a globally respected manufacturing organisation offering a range of Incinerators for all applications in the waste management industry, our products are specifically designed with clean air incineration at the forefront of our product development for Medical, Animal by product and General Municipal waste streams. The products of Inciner8 ...