The Waste-to-Energy Process

Energy recovery from the combustion of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is an efficient and cost effective way for communities to divert waste from landfills and produce renewable energy. Confined and controlled burning, known as combustion, decreases the volume of MSW destined for landfills and recovers energy from the waste. This generates renewable energy and reduces carbon emissions.

At the WtE facility, MSW is unloaded from collection trucks and placed in a trash storage bunker. An overhead crane sorts the waste and lifts it into a combustion chamber to be burned. The heat released from burning converts water to steam, which is then sent to a turbine generator to produce electricity.

A high-efficiency baghouse filtering system captures particulates. As the gas stream travels through these filters, more than 99 percent of particulate matter is removed. The remaining ash is collected and taken to a landfill. Combusting the MSW reduces the volume of waste going to landfill by about 87%.

U.S. WtE Quick Facts

MSW Produced: 262.4 million tons in 2015 and growing

Energy from MSW: 500-600 kWh per ton

Energy from WtE: 14 billion kWh in 2015

Potential Energy from WtE: >135 billion kWh annually and growing

Household Energy Consumption: 10,400 kWh per year

Households Powered by WtE: 1.3 million in 2015

Potential Households Powered by WtE: 13 million and growing

Sources: U.S. EPA, U.S. EIA

How a Waste-to-Energy Facility Works

  1. Municipal waste is delivered to the CEP WtE facility.
  2. Waste is transferred to a combustion chamber where self-sustaining combustion is maintained using negative pressure for odor control.
  3. Heat from combustion boils water to drive a steam turbine.
  4. The steam turbine generates renewable electricity which is then distributed to the grid.
  5. Ash is processed for metal extraction and combined with ash from the pollution control system.
  6. The ash is disposed of.
  7. Gasses from the combustion process are treated.
  8. A baghouse filters particles.
  9. Air emissions are carefully monitored.

The Benefits of Waste-to-Energy

Better Waste Management: The primary advantage of WtE is waste management. Incineration typically reduces the volume of waste by around 87%. Landfills only reduce waste volume through organic decomposition which does nothing for the artificial or non-organic waste that keeps accumulating.

Less Dependence on Landfills: Incineration reduces the need for new landfills since 87% or more of the volume of waste is diverted when the waste is incinerated. This is particularly helpful in densely populated areas where the volume of waste generated is high and land is scarce.

Transportation Savings: Incineration facilities can be located close to where the waste is generated so it wouldn’t have to be transported long distances. The savings on transportation costs can be significant.

Renewable Energy: Incineration plants generate renewable energy from waste. This energy can be used to generate electricity or heat. It can be used to power the needs of people living nearby.

Cleaner Groundwater: Incineration doesn’t add any toxic elements to the groundwater, as landfills do. The chemicals that landfills leak into the environment are diverted.