How to improve the economic viability of MSW facilities in US

In August 2019, the US Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office published a report on research and development opportunities that could enhance the economic viability of using municipal solid waste for biofuel, biopower, and bioproducts. The report identifies a number of technologies and processes that could benefit both existing systems as well as technologies that could be implemented in next-generation facilities that process organic waste.  The report also chronicles the policy and energy use landscape in the United States which has large impacts on the viability of producing electricity or heat from these waste streams.

For existing material recovery and anaerobic digestion facilities, a handful of technologies were identified that show promise for improving economic viability of converting waste to biofuel, bioproducts, and biopower. For material recovery facilities, opportunities exist around quantifying the impacts of feedstock variability on subsequent downstream conversion processes.

Advanced technologies 

Given the high degree of heterogeneity in municipal solid waste, development of critical material attributes, advanced sorting/control technologies, and ultimately technologies that can selectively remove or manage problematic constituents are of interest. For existing anaerobic digesters, opportunities exist to explore co-digestion with other organic wastes that are available on-site or in close proximity to existing anaerobic digesters.  Relative to European nations, co-digestion is employed less frequently and understanding the impacts on biogas yields would help de-risk this approach. Once biogas is created, there is potential in new technologies for producing renewable natural gas that meets pipeline specifications or biologically/thermochemically converting this biogas to high value co-products.

Carbon capture

Many of the next generation R&D strategies identified seek to capture and reuse the carbon for higher value uses. Gasification of municipal solid waste has been practiced to a limited extent, but additional understanding of the feedstock and its impact on downstream conversion processes presents unique challenges relative to other feedstocks. The report also identifies robust conversion processes that can help abate some of the syngas cleanup costs. Other liquefaction technologies, such as hydrothermal liquefaction and pyrolysis are discussed as potential strategies for conversion to liquid biofuels and/or co-products.

The appendices of the report detail recent R&D investments by the Bioenergy Technologies Office on the use of municipal solid waste. The scale of these projects ranges from bench-scale research and development to commercial plants that are currently under construction.  For any questions on specific projects or potential collaborations, please contact Beau and he can provide additional links and information on these efforts.

Read the report