From Waste to Energy

by John Cataldo, , March 3, 2011

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Energy is needed for pretty much anything we use in today's world. It is a necessary part of life and, the truth is, we can't live without it. Our main source of energy comes from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. These fossil fuels are more than sufficient, except for the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere when they are burned. The greenhouse gas, CO₂, traps infrared radiation from sunlight in the atmosphere which in turn causes global warming. As the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases we are trying to find alternative sources of energy. One alternative source of energy is Waste-to-Energy.

Waste-to-Energy is a smarter source of energy because of its low amounts of Carbon dioxide that it releases into the atmosphere. This process begins at any average American's home with their curbside trash. A truck picks up any Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) around the neighborhood then proceeds to take it to a Waste-to-Energy facility. At the Waste-to-Energy facility they place the MSW in multiple combustion chambers. These chambers are lined with pipes full of water. As the MSW is burnt down to only ten percent of its original volume it also raises the temperature of the pipes. Once the water in the pipes begins to boil, it produces steam, this steam then travels through a turbine that is continuously generating electricity. The end result of this process is 5,200 kWh of power and 500 pounds of metal recycled for every 10 tons of MSW.

The Waste-to-Energy plants are a clean reliable, renewable source of energy that produces electricity with less environmental impact than almost any other source of electricity, as stated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). For each ton of waste processed in a Waste-to-Energy plants saves the US either one barrel of oil, one quarter ton of coal or almost one ton of Greenhouse Gases released into the atmosphere.

Recycling is an important facet of the Waste-to-Energy process. Some Waste-to-Energy plants recover and recycle over 400,000 tons of ferrous metal annually. That amount of recycled ferrous metal is enough to build 300,000 hybrid cars a year. Recycling is a key part of the fight for alternative sources of energy; communities with a Waste-to-Energy facility had a recycle rate of 33 percent compared to the communities without a Waste-to-Energy plant who only had a recycle rate of 28 percent.
Still, with over half of the Municipal Solid Waste in the US being placed in landfills, this produces another problem. These landfills release another greenhouse gas, methane, into the atmosphere and the land at which they are placed is extremely difficult to redevelop. These things are what make Waste-to-Energy the second most renewable electricity source at 17 percent behind wood with 42 percent. These facilities run 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, which means they are the most continuous reliable source of renewable energy.

The amount of greenhouse gases is on its way to reaching a critical point. Fossil fuels are the leading cause of this drastic increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels represents 82 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by humans. Carbon dioxide has a long-life: 56 percent of Carbon dioxide released by humans is still in the atmosphere. Almost all of the remaining 18 percent of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is methane. Methane's concentration had doubled over the last three centuries and is twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide. Most of the methane in the atmosphere comes from landfills; the more Energy-to-Waste plants we can build will decrease the amount of landfills needed. Currently all of the Energy-to-Waste facilities in the US prevent the release of 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Even though the evidence behind Waste-to-Energy facilities may be overwhelming it still is not enough to make it a primary source of energy for the US. Politics do a great job of keeping it this way; politics affect this matter just as much as scientific evidence. Money and power will get you a long way in the fight against this better, safer source of energy. Most of the time it overcomes flawless evidence but what people don't understand is no matter how much money is made we are all going to suffer the same consequences.

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