Converting Solid Waste To Energy
Mounting Garbage Issue In Sri-Lanka to be solved Using Solid Waste to Energy Technology
Sri Lanka is on track to face a severe crisis in the near future due to the lack of a comprehensive plan to address the mounting garbage issue currently plaguing many municipalities. The increasing population is rapidly generating more solid waste than ever before, which our little island is unable to absorb through available waste dumps. Mountains of unhealthy waste in several major cities such as Colombo, Kandy and Ratnapura are already causing major environmental and health issues in surrounding communities. People living in the surrounding areas of these massive dumps are starting to protest in the streets, demanding action, as our authorities have turned a blind-eye as these helpless people have suffered the stench and disease resulting from the unhealthy environment. The demonstration and tense situation at Meethotamulla in May 2015 is a testimony to this situation.
However, technology is already available to address the solid waste issues around the world. “Plasma Gasification” is one of the most suitable as it breaks down solid waste into its basic elements, with no harmful emissions released in the process. Plasma gasification can be used to convert carbon-containing materials to synthesis gas that can be used to generate power and other useful products, such as transportation fuels.
Plasma gasification provides a number of key benefits
- It unlocks the greatest amount of energy from waste
- Feedstocks can be mixed, such as municipal solid waste, biomass, tires, hazardous waste, and auto shredder waste
- It does not generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas
- It is not incineration and therefore doesn’t produce leachable bottom ash or fly ash
- It reduces the need for landfilling of waste
- It produces syngas, which can be combusted in a gas turbine or reciprocating to produce electricity or further processed into chemicals, fertilizers, or transportation fuels—thereby reducing the need for virgin materials to produce these products
- It has low environmental emissions
Alter NRG Westinghouse Plasma Corporation is developing projects using this technology. It is supplying a gasifier to a 15MW Plasma Gasification plant in China that will process 600 metric tonnes of solid waste a day (which is roughly equivalent to amount of solid waste produced in greater Colombo). The total cost of this project is to be approximately $150m. According to Alter NRG, this is inclusive of the plasma gasifier, civil works, syngas clean-up equipment, steam boilers, turbo-generators, reciprocating engines and other equipment, as well as all construction costs. Compare this to the cost of the $107m potentially environmentally threatening project the cabinet is considering to transport Colombo’s solid waste to Puttalam landfill, which will not be contributing any power to the grid. On the contrary, it will be consuming significant amounts of energy to transport the garbage.
The possibility exists to use Plasma Gasification technology in the Colombo metropolitan area where there is a dire need for a solution to the waste problem. This solution is both effective in waste reduction, and simultaneously produces much needed baseload power.
The Urban Development Authority recently called for expressions of interest for the establishment of waste to energy facilities in Colombo. These EOIs are now being evaluated, and an announcement will be made soon regarding the most appropriate among them to potentially be implemented.
Pending the successful implementation of these projects, the model could be expanded to other municipalities experiencing severe shortage of waste disposal sites such as Kandy and Ratnapura. The benefits of such projects are immense as they not only solve the mounting garbage issues around the country, but also contribute electricity to the national grid and provides a clean and healthy environment for the surrounding communities.
MSc in Green Technology
MPhil in Integrated Water Resources Management
Scientific Advisor, Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka
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