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Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

Posted March 02, 2017 10:32 AM by HUSH

Sometime this year, the city of Copenhagen will open a small 1,400 ft. ski slope with three ski trails along its waterfront. Skiers and snowboarders will get to the top via elevators and surface lifts. In the summer, the slope will turn into a public park with one façade used as a rock wall for climbing.

And while Amager Bakke will provide easily accessible outdoor recreation for thousands of urban Danes, it is but a secondary feature of the construction. The facility’s main purpose is actually to burn up to 1,100 tons of rubbish each day to provide up to 247 MW of heat or 63 MW of electricity for the community.

That’s because Amager Bakke is actually a waste-to-energy (WtE) plant that was built with a social conscience. Not only will leisure activities remind residents of the power of recycling, but so too will the plant’s chimney, which will emit exhaust as a smoke ring with every ton of carbon dioxide burned (roughly equal to one ton of solid waste burned).

WtE facilities are not a new concept, but arguably an underappreciated one. It helps solve two important community issues: landfill reduction and energy creation. WtE facilities are most common in Europe, where denser populations result in shrinking space that can be dedicated to landfills. The creation of energy from a WtE typically drives down local energy prices as well.

In 2016, less than 1% of Sweden’s garbage ended up in a landfill. In the U.S. in 2014, more than 52% of our garbage had been landfilled. Exactly one WtE plant has been built since then (the first since 1995), so it’s safe to estimate our landfill percentage hasn’t changed dramatically since.

WtE plants have been on the back burner in the U.S. for several reasons. For decades, it has been cheaper to bury and forget about waste, rather than build a ten- or hundred-million-dollar facility. Additionally, WtE plants only really make sense if they’re built at least somewhat close to a population center, but no one really wants a trash fire near their house after all.

Environmentalists sometimes argue that WtEs discourage recycling (despite evidence to the contrary) and that only ‘zero-waste’ strategies should be pursued. These individuals might also point out that WtEs create pollution, including fly ash and incinerator bottom ash, which often contain concentrations of heavy metals that must be disposed of carefully. Particulate matter still ends up in the atmosphere to some degree. However, government carefully legislates how to deal with these pollutants. And the most carcinogenic of these pollutants, dioxin and furan, are kept in check by advanced filtering technologies such as lime scrubbers, electro-static precipitators, baghouse filters, reactors, and catalysts. In 1990, WtE plants contributed one-third of dioxin emissions in Germany, but 10 years later it was less than 1%.

When comparing WtE to landfilling with gas recapture in terms of greenhouse gases, there really isn’t much of a comparison. Incineration of one ton of municipal solid waste will generate about one ton of carbon dioxide. Had that ton of solid waste ended up in a landfill, it would have likely generated at least 1.38 tons of carbon dioxide. Incineration also prevents the release of methane in most instances. Since the fuel sources of WtE plants are at least partially biomass-based, it offsets the carbon for each plant product burned if another plant was sown in its place.

In the U.S., Florida and four states in New England are the WtE pacesetters, but there seems to be little appetite for more WtE plants, even in urban locales like New York and Los Angeles that ship their garbage hundreds of miles away, adding to the carbon footprint and cost of waste disposal.

There are other technologies that could make WtE more palatable for Americans. Gasification heats waste to very high temperatures without burning it and the resulting vapors are mixed with oxygen to create syngas. Plasma gasification is closely related and is used on Ford class aircraft carriers. Mechanical biological treatment plants don’t use thermal processes at all. Rather, they break down organic waste with anaerobic or aerobic microorganisms and, in most instances, can recapture biogas. This typically reduces waste volume destined for the landfill by half and eliminates carbon dioxide and methane emissions from landfilled rubbish.

No one is necessarily here to compare the progressive policies of Europe against those of the U.S., but what’s clear is that there is a lot of opportunity for WtE plants in America as the technology is here, and so too is the emphasis on sustainability. What we’re lacking is the willpower.

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#1

Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/02/2017 2:20 PM

This sounds like a question for tcmtech, especially if they are burning tires.

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#2
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/02/2017 5:30 PM

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#16
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/03/2017 9:37 AM

The issue here is a lack of containment when burning.

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#3
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/02/2017 7:44 PM

Contrary to popular misconceptions if a tire fire is properly managed it can burn as smoke free and clean as any other combustible fuel source.

And yes I am all for burning garbage to make heat and electricity!

So where's Lynn anyway? One (or more) of you guys finally get together and bump him off he fall off the top level of the parking garage?

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#4
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/02/2017 7:47 PM

Weird, but Lyn hasn't logged-in since Feb 15.

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#6
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/02/2017 7:55 PM

President Trumps ratings were nearing 50% around that time. Maybe it put him over the edge and he had a stroke or heart attack during a fit of rage.

Also wasn't that about the time california started getting hit with heavy rains thus ending much of their supposed 'AGW climate change induced drought' thusly forcing them to reclassify said drought from being defining proof of climate change trends to being just another extended weather event?

Two hits like that side by side had to have been pretty hard on an old entrenched liberal like him.

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#11
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/03/2017 7:27 AM

I told him on one of his political posts a while back to step back and give it a rest. I like to think that's what he did.

After a recent post (Feb 15th), he PM me, that I was bullying him, and then left some despotic remarks to me.

Hopefully, its just that, a sabbatical.

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#5
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/02/2017 7:54 PM

You're right. It doesn't look so bad when you look the other way.

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#7
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/02/2017 8:01 PM

No disrespect intended, I have burned a tire or 6 once. In fact in my youth, at a bon fire at my ex-mother in laws, we put two tires and a plastic 5 gallon bucket of used motor oil in the bon fire, pretty sure the I.S.S. saw that fire. Not my proudest moment, but it was intense.

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#12
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/03/2017 7:33 AM

I was about 10 years old, and we were doing spring clean up on the farm, was burning brush.... For some reason, out of the blue, my dad told me don't put a tire on that brush pile, we'd get a fine.

So after milking that evening, when everyone went in the house, I threw on one tire... the smoke rose about 50 feet off the ground, and then a gently breeze out of the north caught it, it was a clear evening, not a cloud in the sky,... except for the line of black smoke that looked like it went on for miles that showed where the fire was.

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#13
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/03/2017 8:06 AM

my neighbor (a farmer) was burning a bunch of tires. he dug a big hole and the fire was coming from it. i drove up and asked him why he didn't invite me to his bbq. he told me he was burning cows... said 6 had died of some disease and he used the tires to make the fire hot enough... so i guess burning tires is a valid anti-microbial.

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#15
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/03/2017 9:29 AM

Why cant tires be recycled to the BF or BOF in steel mills?

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#23
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/07/2017 10:01 AM

Contrary to popular misconceptions if a tire fire is properly managed it can burn as smoke free and clean as any other combustible fuel source.

I've done a search on this and found nothing that's verifiable.

Would you mind telling me how that's done?

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#24
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/07/2017 1:19 PM

High temperatures and proper air ratios, followed by scrubbers for ash, sulfur, silicon, and metal collection. People who can do this well aren't keen on sharing their recipe for the special sauce.

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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/07/2017 1:56 PM

The simplest principle is to grind them into fine bits (similar to what stoker coal is reduced to) and put lots of air to the fire from both below and above.

The high air flow from below drives the combustion temperatures up high enough (3000 - 3500+F) to pyrolyze the long chain hydrocarbon molecules in the rubber into shorter ones which then can be more easily burned using the secondary air flow being supplied from above the fuel source.

I used to burn tire chunks in my old boiler system all the time. High heat and adequate air supply were the key to a clean burn.

Same concept I use now for burning used oil. Get the flame/firebox temperatures up high and give it the right amount of air and even old dirty oil will burn clear and clean.

In fact, most anything that will burn will burn clean (smoke and largely smell free) if you do it right.

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#8

Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/02/2017 10:56 PM

Getting back to the ski slope trash burning building,,,

I wonder if they were burning trash one misty day and people were on the ski slope,, would those skiers be subject to a form of localized acid / ashy rain (?)

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#9
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/03/2017 12:51 AM

I used to drive by a landfill many years ago where they burned stuff. The smell was nauseating. This was my first thought when I read the piece.

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#14
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/03/2017 8:52 AM

I feel safe saying that's not the case. Emissions are closely monitored by the government. Selective catalytic reduction can be used to eliminate NOX from the flue gas. Scrubbers and filters handle the rest.

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#10

Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/03/2017 7:18 AM

Hampton, VA Steam Plant

Operating since 1980, built in cooperation between NASA Langley Research Center and the City of Hampton, VA. To my knowledge there have never been any complaints about odors or ash. And I believe there have been a number of NASA Tech Briefs written about it as the technology has been freely available to the public.

And most people erroneously think NASA only does space.

Hooker

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#17

Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/03/2017 3:15 PM

The chart provided is puzzling.

If one ton of waste creates roughly one ton of CO2, and on ton of waste can create 65kWh or 590kWh for landfill collected gas and trash burning power respectively, then how does 1000kWh (1 MWh) equate to 3.35 tons and 0.56 tons respectively?

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#18
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/03/2017 3:31 PM

Because journalist wannabes who failed math class wrote it figuring it would only be read by people with even less mathematical and or scientific sense than them, that's why.

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#19

Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/06/2017 9:11 AM

I have no problem with an article touting advantages of a particular technology relative to another. The data presented makes it seem obvious which system must be better. As it looks so good, and yet the majority of the U.S. hasn't adopted the technology makes me wonder why.

Are we in the U.S. just stupid? Stubborn? Don't care about the environment? There are certainly folks here in the U.S. that are stupid, stubborn, or don't care about the environment (and many that are all three), but I don't really think that's the reason why.

I didn't notice any mention about what such a system of waste disposal would cost relative to existing waste disposal. There is mention of what the 'new' waste disposal systems cost (For decades, it has been cheaper to bury and forget about waste, rather than build a ten- or hundred-million-dollar facility), but compared to what? And the article implies that it isn't cheaper to bury and forget waste rather than build a ten- or hundred-million dollar facility any longer, yet leaves out numbers to support the implied claim.

While it might make economic sense in Denmark and Sweden (combined area less than 200,000 sq miles), it may not in the U.S. (area of 3,800,000 sq miles).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to burning waste, I just would like to know more about the pros and cons.

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#20
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/06/2017 5:08 PM

"Are we in the U.S. just stupid? Stubborn? Don't care about the environment? There are certainly folks here in the U.S. that are stupid, stubborn, or don't care about the environment (and many that are all three), but I don't really think that's the reason why."

I don't see not caring about the environment having much of any real legitimate validity in how our country approaches its operation and overall actions any more. To be honest we pretty much had all the justifiable and gainful environmental protection and cleanup of past issues pretty well done going on 20 years or more now.

Collectively since the 1960's we as a nation stepped up on the cleanup and proper management of our overall environment to a level that has shown itself to be more than justifiable sufficient.

The problem is since that point in time corruption, greed, special interests and blatant bureaucratic bloat with the sole intent to grab as much control over as much as possible in order to squeeze as much money out of everything as possible got into the system and started taking things too far and the average uneducated public not only fell for it but bought into it for everything they had.

Now we are at the point that too much of our national policy and general operations on or regarding supposed environmental issues or what can be weakly associated with or claimed to be relevant to it, goes completely counter to proper environmental good stewardship.

Too much has become run by corrupt entities backed by doe eyed bleeding heart idiots who have near zero formal or accurate scientific or technical knowledge and understandings of the actual causes they hold so dear to to the point that largely the actual environment has very little to absolutely nothing to do with environmental regulation and actions. Pure money and power grabbing special interest and bureaucratic greed is what's running the show now.

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#22
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/06/2017 5:57 PM

When politicians found they could make money after politics (and still i politics) by being a spokeman for the environment.

The Stewart's of the environment lost a lot of credibility in deeds.

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#21
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Re: Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

03/06/2017 5:18 PM

No, actually we have been burning trash and generating electricity for DECADES in this country. There are 19 waste-to-energy Wheelabrator plants in the U.S. and U.K. I'm sure there are metrics that dictate where a plant will be profitable. Hauling waste costs money. But I rather suspect the local 'climate' determines whether it can be constructed there.

http://www.wtienergy.com/

Right in Baltimore you see this one from I-95. Most people don't even realize they burn trash there.

You can easily see the stack for this one from the Mass Pike just east of the Worcester area in Millbury. I remember seeing that one as a young adult.

These appear to be a great way to deal with the mountains of trash we generate all over the world.

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