According to data compiled by The World Counts, 2.12 billion tons of waste are generated each year on a global basis. Approximately 99 percent of goods consumers buy is trashed within six months.
To put this in perspective, if all of the world’s waste were put on conventional transport trucks and placed end to end, they would circle the earth 24 times. As the world’s population continues to grow, so too does the amount of waste, causing a major problem — how do we dispose of this increasingly large amount of waste?
The Chinese city of Shenzhen is taking a major leap forward in combating this complex problem. They are in the process of building the largest waste-to-energy plant in the world. The plant, which is expected to be in operation by 2020, will burn 5,000 tons of garbage a day, turning that waste into electricity.
Waste-to-energy plants were not initially designed to be an energy solution but instead, reduce the need for landfill space when they found that it could also be used to produce energy. However, the massive size of this plant, stretching nearly one mile in length, presents another opportunity. Its roof will hold 476,612 square meters of solar panels that also generate clean, sustainable electricity.
Designed by Denmark-based Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, the construction and operation of this facility will be a major accomplishment in the world of waste-to-energy technology, but the capacity of the plant represents only one-third of the total waste generated by Shenzhen’s citizens. However, this project is just the first of 300 waste-to-energy plants that the Chinese government plans to build over the next three years.
Is waste-to-energy the answer to the problem of landfill shortages? Around the world, waste-to-energy plants have been in operation since the 1950s. For example, Sweden uses waste-to-energy technology to convert two million tons of waste annually (96 percent of its garbage), into energy. In fact, the Scandinavian nation of more than 9.5 million citizens has been so successful that in 2013 the country ran out of its own trash and now imports 80,000 tons of refuse on an annual basis from Norway, just to keep their generators working.
At the end of 2015, the United States had 71 waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, generating approximately 2.3 gigawatts of power. A gigawatt of power will provide enough energy for about 700,000 homes. Florida and four states in the Northeast accounted for 61 percent of the total WTE power plant capacity in the U.S; they produced 64 percent of the total WTE electricity.
A major problem in the development of waste-to-energy plants is the control of emissions. Not only is the amount of C02 an issue, but toxic emissions such as mercury, cadmium, lead, dioxins, furans, and volatile organic compounds are a major concern. Some of these emissions can be controlled by installing sophisticated scrubbers that capture and prevent these emissions from entering the atmosphere.
Other methods for controlling emissions involve restricting what is fed into the incinerator. Not all garbage is suitable for waste-to-energy incineration. As efficient as Sweden is in converting garbage to energy, four percent is still sent to the landfill.
General Kinematics manufactures automated sorting equipment that helps to identify products that should not go into the waste-to-energy process. But that does not mean that all products being eliminated from the waste-to-energy stream need to be sent to a landfill.
Products such as metals, which have the potential to be used for years to come, can be extracted and resold providing the WTE plant with a second income.These metals can be extracted by the General Kinematics ASR VIBRA-DRUM® Grinding Mills. This Grinding drum successfully crushes glass and rock to a fine powder leaving the metals in tact. If the material has already been burned for power the metals can still be extracted from the bottom ash using the VIBRA-DRUM® Attrition Mill to dispose of ash and yield a better profit.
Waste-to-energy technology is improving, and indeed, there is a significant need for the development of landfill alternatives General Kinematics is working towards a better future with you in mind
To learn more about WTE or the innovative equipment that General Kinematics is innovating and designing every day – contact us today!