Waste-to-Energy Chugging Along

A new waste-to-energy plant is being planned in Gary, Indiana.  It will divert municipal solid waste (MSW) from Chicago and convert it using a Fischer Tropsch process. 

Meanwhile, Neste is opening a renewable diesel plant in Singapore.

A quick search indicates that other companies are working on this problem as well. 

By themselves, these plants are insignificant next to oil demand - but the concept seems to be spreading. The more interesting question is how much oil would be displaced if all economical waste was converted. I've lost the link, but the last I read suggested that, if you include all hydrocarbon wastes (E.g. you would include any unused hydrocarbon, such as sawdust and old construction materials), the world has 30MMbpd equivalent of waste.  Even if only 1/3rd of that were converted, it would be significant. 

The economics of MSW projects are driven as much by tipping fees (how landfills earn revenue) as by selling the end product, so they're not completely dependent on the price of oil.  Many may also be profitable today. 

That raises a couple questions:
1)  Could everything-to-oil technology expand rapidly and put an unexpected dent in oil demand, much as electrification is rising more quickly than predicted? 
2)  Do oil traders look at this sort of thing, or does it happen too slowly to matter for their daily work? 

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14 minutes ago, mthebold said:

A new waste-to-energy plant is being planned in Gary, Indiana.  It will divert municipal solid waste (MSW) from Chicago and convert it using a Fischer Tropsch process. 

Meanwhile, Neste is opening a renewable diesel plant in Singapore.

A quick search indicates that other companies are working on this problem as well. 

By themselves, these plants are insignificant next to oil demand - but the concept seems to be spreading. The more interesting question is how much oil would be displaced if all economical waste was converted. I've lost the link, but the last I read suggested that, if you include all hydrocarbon wastes (E.g. you would include any unused hydrocarbon, such as sawdust and old construction materials), the world has 30MMbpd equivalent of waste.  Even if only 1/3rd of that were converted, it would be significant. 

The economics of MSW projects are driven as much by tipping fees (how landfills earn revenue) as by selling the end product, so they're not completely dependent on the price of oil.  Many may also be profitable today. 

That raises a couple questions:
1)  Could everything-to-oil technology expand rapidly and put an unexpected dent in oil demand, much as electrification is rising more quickly than predicted? 
2)  Do oil traders look at this sort of thing, or does it happen too slowly to matter for their daily work? 

This must be nibbling away. In the UK the estimations are that anareobic digestion plants will deliver about 150 TWH of biogas by 2050. The Govt have proposals out currently to make garden and kitchen waste collection mandatory. 

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1 minute ago, NickW said:

This must be nibbling away. In the UK the estimations are that anareobic digestion plants will deliver about 150 TWH of biogas by 2050. The Govt have proposals out currently to make garden and kitchen waste collection mandatory. 

Unfortunately the digestion plants do not remove the bulk of the solids.  

Equally, the solids will still contain the pollutants, such as excess phosphorus, so they cannot be dumped onto the land, as the excess loading will wash off into the rivers and lakes, creating the cyanobacteria blooms that are the precursors to eutrophication.   Digestion does produce gas, over a longish time-frame (between 22 and 60 days, dependent on the constitution of the materials loading) but the solids issue remains.  Properly re-treated, the solids can be burned as biomass, as a substitute for coal.  

I find that there is a huge market for these syngas plants.  The big market will be in siting these plants next to old landfills, so that the landfill material can be dug up and consumed into the reactors.  Landfills produce "leachate," a highly poisonous liquid that flows out of the bottom of the landfill and pollutes the surrounding water table,  The leachate issue is the big gorilla in the landfill industry that nobody wants to talk about, even think about.  As old landfills "mature," the leachate leakage issue will explode.  The only remediation that I can see is to dig up each and every single landfill and re-process all that material, at huge expense.  If you can convert the old stuff into jetfuel, at least you get some or all of your money back.  And it will absolutely have to be done, those old landfills are ticking environmental time bombs.  You heard it here first, folks. 

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(edited)

24 minutes ago, Jan van Eck said:

Unfortunately the digestion plants do not remove the bulk of the solids.  

Equally, the solids will still contain the pollutants, such as excess phosphorus, so they cannot be dumped onto the land, as the excess loading will wash off into the rivers and lakes, creating the cyanobacteria blooms that are the precursors to eutrophication.   Digestion does produce gas, over a longish time-frame (between 22 and 60 days, dependent on the constitution of the materials loading) but the solids issue remains.  Properly re-treated, the solids can be burned as biomass, as a substitute for coal.  

I find that there is a huge market for these syngas plants.  The big market will be in siting these plants next to old landfills, so that the landfill material can be dug up and consumed into the reactors.  Landfills produce "leachate," a highly poisonous liquid that flows out of the bottom of the landfill and pollutes the surrounding water table,  The leachate issue is the big gorilla in the landfill industry that nobody wants to talk about, even think about.  As old landfills "mature," the leachate leakage issue will explode.  The only remediation that I can see is to dig up each and every single landfill and re-process all that material, at huge expense.  If you can convert the old stuff into jetfuel, at least you get some or all of your money back.  And it will absolutely have to be done, those old landfills are ticking environmental time bombs.  You heard it here first, folks. 

The solids are used on the land as a soil conditioner and fertiliser. 

The application is strictly regulated to minimise the risk of run off into rivers and lakes. 

Edited by NickW
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2 hours ago, mthebold said:

A new waste-to-energy plant is being planned in Gary, Indiana.  It will divert municipal solid waste (MSW) from Chicago and convert it using a Fischer Tropsch process. 

Meanwhile, Neste is opening a renewable diesel plant in Singapore.

A quick search indicates that other companies are working on this problem as well. 

By themselves, these plants are insignificant next to oil demand - but the concept seems to be spreading. The more interesting question is how much oil would be displaced if all economical waste was converted. I've lost the link, but the last I read suggested that, if you include all hydrocarbon wastes (E.g. you would include any unused hydrocarbon, such as sawdust and old construction materials), the world has 30MMbpd equivalent of waste.  Even if only 1/3rd of that were converted, it would be significant. 

The economics of MSW projects are driven as much by tipping fees (how landfills earn revenue) as by selling the end product, so they're not completely dependent on the price of oil.  Many may also be profitable today. 

That raises a couple questions:
1)  Could everything-to-oil technology expand rapidly and put an unexpected dent in oil demand, much as electrification is rising more quickly than predicted? 
2)  Do oil traders look at this sort of thing, or does it happen too slowly to matter for their daily work? 

Q1. & Q2......... it is happening too slowly to matter for the moment.

Although i have accidentally discovered a better version of biofuel from waste than commonly accepted methane gas during a very small experiment it might still be a long way to go. Planning the volume and coordinating the consistency of the flow of waste would be the first few tasks to be handled. A few of the existing plants are expensive and not working sustainably because there is no long term planning nor clear concept on the idea what to do and how to do it properly.

Thinking of some chemical reactions that can prolong the carbon chains from methane and other product(s) that imitate oil but did not want to blast the lab with careless testings. May be someone here would be interested to pick it up??

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21 minutes ago, specinho said:

Q1. & Q2......... it is happening too slowly to matter for the moment.

Although i have accidentally discovered a better version of biofuel from waste than commonly accepted methane gas during a very small experiment it might still be a long way to go. Planning the volume and coordinating the consistency of the flow of waste would be the first few tasks to be handled. A few of the existing plants are expensive and not working sustainably because there is no long term planning nor clear concept on the idea what to do and how to do it properly.

Thinking of some chemical reactions that can prolong the carbon chains from methane and other product(s) that imitate oil but did not want to blast the lab with careless testings. May be someone here would be interested to pick it up??

If the biofuel source is cow manure then there is an effectively infinite amount to collect, and the supply chain is assured in volume.  The cows never stop pooping.  Although there are other means to dispose of manure, including as a soils replacement for badly degraded landscapes, so as to accept trees planting, and when dried as a boiler fuel for steam generation  (cow manure has the caloric content of sub-bituminous coal), there is still far more manure than immediate prospects to consume it.  Converting manure into an oil chemical is a brilliant idea, as long as the money aspect works out.  If the process is cost upside-down, then it is effectively hopeless.   Cheers.

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42 minutes ago, Jan van Eck said:

If the biofuel source is cow manure then there is an effectively infinite amount to collect, and the supply chain is assured in volume.  The cows never stop pooping.  Although there are other means to dispose of manure, including as a soils replacement for badly degraded landscapes, so as to accept trees planting, and when dried as a boiler fuel for steam generation  (cow manure has the caloric content of sub-bituminous coal), there is still far more manure than immediate prospects to consume it.  Converting manure into an oil chemical is a brilliant idea, as long as the money aspect works out.  If the process is cost upside-down, then it is effectively hopeless.   Cheers.

I read somewhere that the daily output of Methane from each cow is 3-4 kwh when the manure is anaerobically digested. 

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57 minutes ago, NickW said:

I read somewhere that the daily output of Methane from each cow is 3-4 kwh when the manure is anaerobically digested. 

I dunno the numbers, Nick, could be.  But here is the problem:  digestion does not destroy the solids.  When the methane is extracted, you still have that mountain of poop to contend with. And, the poop residue still have the P and the N that causes overload on the soil, so you cannot dispose of the poop by spreading it on the land - unless you have a vast amount of land, all capable of absorbing the poop and the water component.  In most parts of the northern US, that is no longer possible. 

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2 minutes ago, Jan van Eck said:

I dunno the numbers, Nick, could be.  But here is the problem:  digestion does not destroy the solids.  When the methane is extracted, you still have that mountain of poop to contend with. And, the poop residue still have the P and the N that causes overload on the soil, so you cannot dispose of the poop by spreading it on the land - unless you have a vast amount of land, all capable of absorbing the poop and the water component.  In most parts of the northern US, that is no longer possible. 

Must be a US specific problem because in Europe its that P &N that the farmers want along with the residual biomass as a soil conditioner. 

AD results in some mass reduction as the C & H has to come from somewhere. 

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1 minute ago, NickW said:

Must be a US specific problem because in Europe its that P &N that the farmers want along with the residual biomass as a soil conditioner. 

AD results in some mass reduction as the C & H has to come from somewhere. 

The problem is the sheer volume, it overwhelms the ability of the land to absorb it all.  Additionally, the P and N are not in proper balance, so the soil gets overloaded with nutrients, and then the excess invariably washes off and into the rivers and eventually the Lakes.  

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17 minutes ago, Jan van Eck said:

The problem is the sheer volume, it overwhelms the ability of the land to absorb it all.  Additionally, the P and N are not in proper balance, so the soil gets overloaded with nutrients, and then the excess invariably washes off and into the rivers and eventually the Lakes.  

10-5-5 is the optimum NPK fertiliser. 

These are the typical ranges for UK digestate (Source DEFRA) 

  • Nitrogen: 2.3 - 4.2 kg/tonne
  • Phosphorous: 0.2 - 1.5 kg/tonne
  • Potassium: 1.3 - 5.2 kg/tonne

That will determine the upper limit of application per Hectare of land. Uptake will depend on what you are growing on it. Most of the land digestate goes onto in the UK is growing Cereals, Canola, Sugar Beet or Potatoes. 

 

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3 minutes ago, NickW said:

10-5-5 is the optimum NPK fertiliser. 

These are the typical ranges for UK digestate (Source DEFRA) 

  • Nitrogen: 2.3 - 4.2 kg/tonne
  • Phosphorous: 0.2 - 1.5 kg/tonne
  • Potassium: 1.3 - 5.2 kg/tonne

That will determine the upper limit of application per Hectare of land. Uptake will depend on what you are growing on it. Most of the land digestate goes onto in the UK is growing Cereals, Canola, Sugar Beet or Potatoes. 

 

Thank you, NIck..Very valuable to know.  

I assume that when the material is at the low end of the range for one input, it likely correlates with low-end numbers for the others. Note the imbalance between N and P.  

In Vermont, a big problem is too much residual P, called the legacy P.  It is largely in the lake bottom and alluvial moraine material.  I see no way of removal other than dredging.  Fortunately, I have developed a customer for the dredging spoil, in the rehab of eroded rocky landscape, to allow for re-planting of trees.  Cheers. 

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2 minutes ago, Jan van Eck said:

Thank you, NIck..Very valuable to know.  

I assume that when the material is at the low end of the range for one input, it likely correlates with low-end numbers for the others. Note the imbalance between N and P.  

In Vermont, a big problem is too much residual P, called the legacy P.  It is largely in the lake bottom and alluvial moraine material.  I see no way of removal other than dredging.  Fortunately, I have developed a customer for the dredging spoil, in the rehab of eroded rocky landscape, to allow for re-planting of trees.  Cheers. 

I would have thought there is a natural market for digestates - the forestry sector. 

The UK Forestry commission applies a lot of digestate to their land after clear fells and they are replanting. Most Uk forests (plantation ones)  are located on very poor soils. 

Nitrogen is normally the limiting factor. If anything the farmer will need to top up with P. Depends of course what they are growing. 

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One of my daily reads is 'eurekalert.org'. Announcements on CO2 capture, CO2 conversion to fuels, artificial photosynthesis, and 'base metal' catalysts are now appearing pretty much daily. Usually the announcement regards some sort of record, the highest conversion efficiency or a lower operating temperature or atmospheric pressure, etc.

Among the implications of this is that there is a widely distributed staff of principal investigators (scientists) and technicians that can make all this work. It's great if someone can demonstrate something in a lab, it's even better if it works in production volumes. If 'dozens' or 'hundreds' of practitioners are available, production is a lot easier to maintain.

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11 minutes ago, Meredith Poor said:

One of my daily reads is 'eurekalert.org'. Announcements on CO2 capture, CO2 conversion to fuels, artificial photosynthesis, and 'base metal' catalysts are now appearing pretty much daily. Usually the announcement regards some sort of record, the highest conversion efficiency or a lower operating temperature or atmospheric pressure, etc.

Among the implications of this is that there is a widely distributed staff of principal investigators (scientists) and technicians that can make all this work. It's great if someone can demonstrate something in a lab, it's even better if it works in production volumes. If 'dozens' or 'hundreds' of practitioners are available, production is a lot easier to maintain.

Anaerobic Digestion is a mature technology that has been in practice for decades. I can remember visiting a large sewage works when I was at Uni - they had 4 250KW engines that ran on AD produced Methane. The electricity ran the sewage works. The waste heat was used to accelerate the AD process.  

Most work now is to try and increase yields which in turn will also reduce the final volume of the digestate. 

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1 hour ago, Jan van Eck said:

Thank you, NIck..Very valuable to know.  

I assume that when the material is at the low end of the range for one input, it likely correlates with low-end numbers for the others. Note the imbalance between N and P.  

In Vermont, a big problem is too much residual P, called the legacy P.  It is largely in the lake bottom and alluvial moraine material.  I see no way of removal other than dredging.  Fortunately, I have developed a customer for the dredging spoil, in the rehab of eroded rocky landscape, to allow for re-planting of trees.  Cheers. 

Just looked at some figures. Winter wheat's optimum N level is 50kg / ha so fileds being used for that could take 11-25 tonnes of digestate 

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5 hours ago, Jan van Eck said:

Equally, the solids will still contain the pollutants, such as excess phosphorus, so they cannot be dumped onto the land, as the excess loading will wash off into the rivers and lakes, creating the cyanobacteria blooms that are the precursors to eutrophication.  

 

1 hour ago, Jan van Eck said:

And, the poop residue still have the P and the N that causes overload on the soil, so you cannot dispose of the poop by spreading it on the land - unless you have a vast amount of land, all capable of absorbing the poop and the water component.  In most parts of the northern US, that is no longer possible. 

These waste-to-oil projects are using FT technology, which means all hydrocarbon solids are eliminated.  That leaves us with ash. 

In Singapore, I imagine they can haul it out to sea and dump it in the ocean.  Elsewhere, I wonder if there are other uses for P and N.  Could we recycle some of it into fertilizers (not by direct application, but by manufacturing regular fertilizer out of it) and send the rest to an industry that already uses these elements? 

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Just now, mthebold said:

 

These waste-to-oil projects are using FT technology, which means all hydrocarbon solids are eliminated.  That leaves us with ash. 

In Singapore, I imagine they can haul it out to sea and dump it in the ocean.  Elsewhere, I wonder if there are other uses for P and N.  Could we recycle some of it into fertilizers (not by direct application, but by manufacturing regular fertilizer out of it) and send the rest to an industry that already uses these elements? 

Generally speaking, Yes.  The ash can be used directly as a soils enhancer.  The issue is more that the ash may not have a home nearby; you have to go hunt a home up.  There are places for such products, but then the receiver may not have any money to buy the stuff.  For example, one can envision lots of ash and assorted material going to Egypt to expand their arable land, as with Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, and so forth.  But can anyone pay for it?  Or do you have to sell it to the UN and then it gets seriously complicated to get paid?  You see the problems.

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Just now, Jan van Eck said:

Generally speaking, Yes.  The ash can be used directly as a soils enhancer.  The issue is more that the ash may not have a home nearby; you have to go hunt a home up.  There are places for such products, but then the receiver may not have any money to buy the stuff.  For example, one can envision lots of ash and assorted material going to Egypt to expand their arable land, as with Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, and so forth.  But can anyone pay for it?  Or do you have to sell it to the UN and then it gets seriously complicated to get paid?  You see the problems. 

How much would it cost to dump it in the ocean? 

On that note, my understanding is that ocean life is often limited by the minerals available.  E.g. someone on the US West Coast decided to play geoengineer with iron.  If phosphorus and nitrogen are also limiting factors for some fishing industry, we could have a market. 

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3 minutes ago, mthebold said:

How much would it cost to dump it in the ocean? 

On that note, my understanding is that ocean life is often limited by the minerals available.  E.g. someone on the US West Coast decided to play geoengineer with iron.  If phosphorus and nitrogen are also limiting factors for some fishing industry, we could have a market. 

I dunno.  Never thought about that aspect.  Then again, Mr. Ocean is not going to pay you anything, either. 

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17 minutes ago, mthebold said:

How much would it cost to dump it in the ocean? 

On that note, my understanding is that ocean life is often limited by the minerals available.  E.g. someone on the US West Coast decided to play geoengineer with iron.  If phosphorus and nitrogen are also limiting factors for some fishing industry, we could have a market. 

Running out of phosphate is the end of mankind. Dumping phosphate rich materials in the ocean is insane. 

Dumping Nitrogen in the ocean is a good way of turning it into a dead zone as it will go anoxic

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31 minutes ago, Jan van Eck said:

I dunno.  Never thought about that aspect.  Then again, Mr. Ocean is not going to pay you anything, either. 

Mr Ocean will pay you back 

 

dead-fish.gif

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1 hour ago, NickW said:

Running out of phosphate is the end of mankind. Dumping phosphate rich materials in the ocean is insane. 

Dumping Nitrogen in the ocean is a good way of turning it into a dead zone as it will go anoxic 

The ocean is huge though.  How much nitrogen would we have to dump to create a dead zone?

Or, as environmental engineers like to say, "Dilution is the solution to pollution." 

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1 minute ago, mthebold said:

The ocean is huge though.  How much nitrogen would we have to dump to create a dead zone?

Or, as environmental engineers like to say, "Dilution is the solution to pollution." 

Dunno - but the USA is already doing a good job of turning the Gulf of Mexico into an anoxic body of water. 

In any case N&P are both vital agricultural nutrients which farmer pay a lot of money for. AD digestate contains these along with biomass which helps soils retain water and a range of other micro-nutrients (iron, sulphur, pottasium etc). 

For the cost of shipping this stuff to ports and loading onto ships you might as well ship it midwest - the soils out there are in desperate need as Maize is very nutrient demanding. 

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