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Study: Technologies That Recover Energy From Waste Could Offer Environmental Benefits and Cost Savings for Communities


Contact: Jennifer Killinger (202) 249-6619  
Email: jennifer_killinger@americanchemistry.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 24, 2012) – The American Chemistry Council (ACC) today released a new study showing that emerging new technologies designed to convert waste into fuels or raw materials offer environmental benefits and cost savings over landfill disposal. The release coincides with the North American Waste-to-Energy Conference or NAWTEC.

The study, “Environmental and Economic Analysis of Emerging Plastics Conversion Technologies,” sponsored by ACC’s Plastics Division and conducted by RTI International, examined two types of advanced conversion technologies: gasification and pyrolysis. Although both technologies are capable of processing a wide range of wastes, this study looked at gasification technology that accepts all municipal solid waste (MSW), including non-recycled plastics; and pyrolysis that handles non-recycled plastics only.

When compared to landfill disposal, RTI found that gasification of MSW saves 6.5 to 13 million Btu per ton and 0.3 to 0.6 tons of carbon equivalent emissions per ton. Similarly, pyrolysis, which converts plastics to oil or gas, saves 1.8 to 3.6 million Btu per ton and 0.15 to 0.25 tons of carbon equivalent per ton over landfill disposal. 

“This study is the latest in a growing body of information showing that many of the things we’ve viewed as waste actually have tremendous potential as energy resources,” said Steve Russell, Vice President of Plastics for ACC. “As a complement to a robust recycling infrastructure, conversion technologies offer environmental benefits and cost savings over traditional waste disposal processes.”

In the study, RTI reports having identified 41 advanced conversion technology facilities that are under development or undergoing demonstration in North America that that will accept MSW or non-recycled plastics as feedstocks. Due to their many benefits (e.g., potential to produce a range of energy, fuel, feedstocks, and chemicals; and waste diversion benefits), these waste conversion technologies are expected to become much more attractive in North America in the next five to ten years.

As the range of conversion technologies continues to develop, study authors remind readers that each variant differs in its requirements, economics and potential benefits. Direct comparisons of the costs and environmental benefits of gasification and pyrolysis technologies are not recommended due to differences in the energy value of the different feedstocks they use and differences in beneficial offsets. These beneficial offsets are explained in further detail in the study.

Learn more about waste-to-energy.

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