Material and Energy valorisation of waste in a Circular Economy

Upcoming IEA Bioenergy Task 36 report


Soon the task report “Trends and drivers in alternative thermal conversion” will be released. The report identifies the opportunities in Europe for implementation of thermal technologies alternatives to waste incineration.

IEA Bioenergy Task 36 “Material and energy valorisation of waste in a circular economy” prepared this report about trends in waste management for the example of municipal solid waste (MSW). Within the waste hierarchy, recycling is given preference over recovery, and waste-to-energy (WtE) conversion is given preference over landfilling. MSW is non-hazardous household and commercial waste. Typically, approximately half of it is of biogenic origin. Waste incineration represents the state-of-the-art WtE technology for MSW, whilst alternative thermal treatment technologies such as gasification or pyrolysis have been applied little to MSW due to economic factors and low technology readiness. Specifically, in the European Union (EU), this is changing currently.

Major trends in the EU are driven by legislation and implementation goals, some of which are country specific:

  • Banning of landfilling in combination with limited social acceptance and, in some countries, legal restrictions, for additional incineration capacity
  • Increasing waste produced or imported in combination with limited incineration capacities have led to increased waste treatment cost (gate fees) and waste exports
  • Recycling rates that are lower than European Union (EU) and national Circular Economy objectives
  • Global demand for sustainable, i.e. non greenhouse gas (GHG)-emission, routes for waste processing
  • Heightened social awareness and concerns about environmental impacts including climate change and marine littering.

Key opportunities driven by these trends are:

  • implementation of thermal technologies alternative to waste incineration
    • for energy recovery to deal with missing acceptance for direct waste incineration,
    • for chemical recycling of waste, accelerating the transition to a circular economy, co-processing of biomass and waste, to improve the economies of scale associated with biomass conversion plants.

The upcoming report discusses both trends impacting solid waste management systems within EU countries as well as selected alternative thermal treatment technology opportunities. Aspects concerning technology readiness and affordability are highlighted in this report as well as the need to combine mechanical waste pre-treatment and sorting with thermochemical treatment in order to increase recycling rates and to improve economics.