In August 2011, Dr Iseley formed the Waste to Energy (WTE) research team, comprising university graduate and undergraduate students from the Indian University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI).
The Lugar Center for Renewable Energy (LCRE), which houses the team, was established to address the need for clean, affordable and renewable energy sources, improve the United States’ energy security and reduce the negative impacts of climate change. The LCRE’s primary mission is to promote research excellence in the area of renewable energy through collaborative efforts among faculties in the disciplines of engineering, chemistry, physics, biology, public policy and environmental affairs.
Achieving WTE goals
The WTE team has targeted municipal solid waste (MSW) feedstock as its study focus. The team has identified that while this is the most challenging feedstock to address, it is also the most essential for a sustainable civilisation.Article continues below…
The current solution for MSW is to bury or burn it; however, landfills throughout the world are reaching capacity, and while incineration can reduce the volume of MSW and produce various sources of energy; the emissions it releases are rapidly becoming unacceptable in the face of climate change.
Due to this concern, the WTE team is working toward global research and development for next generation WTE solutions including pyrolysis, gasification and plasma technologies. While these technologies are not new, their application in transferring MSW to electric power is relatively new.
The WTE is committed to an approach for developing a rapid response to identifying, developing, evaluating, validating, and transferring the research into practice.
The WTE team’s approach will include:
- Assisting project development teams with technology assessment
- Assisting WTE technology developers/providers
- Working closely with LCRE.
The WTE team believes developing waste-to-energy technologies and processes is an opportunity for science and engineering to develop systems which can ‘kill two birds with one stone’. WTE can be seen as an opportunity to continue the path of human ingenuity and technological advancement.
There are several WTE technologies currently available, most notably:
- Plasma arc gasification
- Anaerobic digestion.
Most of these technologies have been used for other purposes (some relating to waste disposal of an industrial nature), so the challenge, says the WTE team, will be using the existing technology to make the jump to technologies that are capable of dealing with more waste at a faster rate.
It will be necessary to advance these existing technologies and related processes as well. The eventual goal is an integrated network of mutually exclusive alternatives, into a network of facilities that can efficiently deal with substantial percentages of waste, while also creating energy as a by-product indicates the WTE team.
Objectives of the WTE team are to:
- Continue the international WTE technology assessment
- Develop a technical report summarising the assessment
- Develop a spreadsheet to illustrate this assessment
- Identify industry development trends
- Develop recommendations for future focus
- Present findings to the Dean of the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology; Director of LCRE, key industry representatives, and other interested parties
- Define a system of standard terminology.
Dr Iseley’s vision for the IUPUI is that it will be established as a national and international clearing house in the area of WTE. Dr Iseley identifies that this can be achieved by conducting the required research and development to develop cutting-edge technology, and establishing IUPUI as the clearing house for the evaluation and validation of emerging WTE technologies.