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Reconsidering Waste-to-Energy

Technology and regulation changes the outlook for garbage burners.

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2012

Austria have mandates requiring that 20 percent biogas be used in natural gas vehicles. Feed-in tariffs have been established for biogas in Germany and half of Sweden’s nearly 11,500 natural gas vehicles are powered by biogas.

The U.S. market for anaerobic digestion is currently very small, but has large opportunity for growth. According to EPA, livestock waste could be used to generate 1,667 MW of power, and wastewater treatment could produce another 411 MW. This infers penetration of 4 percent and 32 percent, respectively. With costs coming down, regulatory incentives in place, and the opportunity to import business models from other distributed generation markets, energy from wet waste is poised for growth.

A New Future for Garbage

While all renewable resources will be needed to diversify America’s generation portfolio, energy from waste sources provides excellent benefits to the energy industry. The technology is low-cost, renewable, and produces power at a constant and reliable rate. Under a carbon regime, avoiding methane emissions can generate enormous economic value in carbon markets and, although the technology is relatively mature, the markets for applying these solutions are relatively untapped. It’s time that the U.S. market caught up with Europe, which has already made large strides in utilizing waste for energy, a resource that could increase renewable capacity by 20 to 25 percent.