Last week, Dr. Michael Webber of the University of Texas at Austin together with ACC released a recent study that reaffirms the potential of everyday waste as an abundant, affordable and domestic energy source (press release, full study).
Dr. Webber’s study included a pilot project in which his team used an engineered fuel created by Balcones Fuel Technology to help power a cement kiln in Arkansas. The fuel was made with the residue from recycling facilities, basically consisting of plastics and paper that were too contaminated to be economically recycled. Then Dr. Webber’s research team analyzed the data they generated from the pilot to determine the energy value and environmental benefits of using this type of engineered fuel.
A key finding of the study is that the engineered fuel provided more energy per pound than some forms of coal – a proven energy source. If this fuel were used everywhere coal is currently used nationwide, the reduction in carbon emissions in comparison to coal would be equivalent to removing one million cars from U.S. roads. Dr. Webber’s team also found a significant reduction in sulfur emissions from the engineered fuel compared to coal.
Another highlight from the study was that if just an additional 5 percent of the residue from U.S. materials recovery facilities (MRFs) were converted to solid engineered fuels, the resulting energy saved could provide enough energy to power the equivalent of about 700,000 American homes.
Single stream recycling – where residents place all of their recyclable materials into a single bin – is considered a huge advantage in helping to collect more material. Yet, while single-stream recycling helps to divert millions of tons of waste from U.S. landfills every year, it is not possible to economically recycle everything that’s collected. Some of the material collected – usually between 5 and 15 percent – is just too contaminated and lacks markets.
The development of engineered fuels and other new technologies that allow us to recover energy from waste are creating opportunities to tap into a valuable energy source while diverting energy-rich material from taking up space in America’s landfills.
Solid waste is too valuable a resource to bury. Entrepreneurs and scientists are doing their part to develop a wide range of technologies and energy outputs. We need policy makers to help lift some of the barriers to commercialization.