Turning Trash into Energy – Noelle Nasif

What is Trash to Energy?
Burning trash as biomass
Methane capture
Emerging technology of high
temperature gasification
Burning Trash as
Trash is burned in large scale incinerators.
Works like burning any other type of fuel.
Low pressure to create briquettes that can be used
In place of coal and burner cleaner than coal.
Can be used as CDM projects
Image of straw and hay briquettes.
Methane Capture
Organic waste is put into storage tanks. The
decomposition process releases methane gas that can
be siphoned off and stored. The same process creates
methane pockets in landfills.
It is considered to have a double benefit because it
prevents the methane that would be released from the
landfill and also providing a cleaner burning alternative
to more conventional fossil fuels.
Often used for small scale projects.
High Temperature Gasification
The process uses thermal decomposition to chemically
breakdown waste and create a hydrogen rich synthetic
The technology uses induction heating (similar to a
microwave) as opposed to burning.
Along with the synthetic gas, the process also creates a
ash like by product that can be reused.
The company advancing the technology claim that the
process has a relatively small carbon footprint and that
the process limits the toxicity of the ash.
Induction heating
Examples of the materials that can be
Medical waste
Household waste
Agricultural waste
Sewage sludge
Fly-ash from traditional incinerators
What is Africa Doing Now?
Examples from Nigeria
and South Africa
In 2010, Kwara, one of Nigeria’s 36 states, contracted with
American company Power House Energy Africa to put in a
high temperature gasification plant.
The agreement was reached as part of Kwara’s Public
Private Partnership Initiative.
The President of Power House Energy Africa has promised
that the plant will be not add any pollution and that the
costs will be kept low.
Plans for the plant were unveiled in July 2010. It remains to
be seen if the plant will be able to meet those expectations.
If it works then it could be a huge step forward for Africa
and abroad.
South Africa
In 2006, the French Development Agency provided a
loan to South Africa for a methane capture project.
The Project involves methane capture from three
landfills in the South African municipality of Durban.
The project is estimated to be able to generate up to
10 MW of power, enough to electrify 9,000 homes.
This undertaking is a certified CDM project with
South Africa being able to sell carbon credits.
As they qualify as CDM projects there has been
a push for more incinerators in Africa.
My research was unable to identify current
incinerator projects in the continent, though the
UN conference held in Cancun last week
indicated that interest in burning trash for
biomass is gaining traction in the continent.
Why Africa Benefits from
Trash to Energy Projects
The Trash Problem
The Trash Problem
Like many nations Africa has too much trash.
There are African nations that lack the resources
or even the stability to have proper sanitation
Trash to energy allows for that trash to be put to
Briquettes burn cleaner than fossil fuels- prevent
Africa from developing a coal addiction.
The processes can even be combined in
existing landfills, pulling out methane and then
If high temp gasification works then it can get
rid of plastic waste.
Waste to energy projects have the benefit of
solving two problems- providing energy while
getting rid of trash.
Foreign Investment Opportunities
Domestic Investment Incentives
CDM/Carbon Market
Other Pros
Solve a problem without preventing
investment in other renewable energy
The close proximity of landfills means it
doesn’t have the transmission line problems
that go along with wind and solar.
Uses a resource that the community has and
doesn’t need.
Is Trash to Energy a Bad Choice
for Africa?
Environmental Injustice
Can Africa Afford it
Environmental Injustice
The Scavengers
On Dec 1st protesters from India, Latin America, and
Africa hung banners outside a UN meeting in Cancun
protesting plans to allow trash incinerator CDM
projects in those regions.
The protestors are “trash scavengers.” These people
support themselves and their families by scavenging
through the landfills and then selling what they find.
Incinerators take away this form of livelihood from the
people least able to afford it.
Environmental Injustice
Toxic Damage
Burning trash creates less GHG’s but can
instead release toxins from the waste being
These are mainly poor communities in Africa
that cannot defend themselves against
government decisions to build an incinerator.
Can Africa Afford Trash to Energy
Incinerators have very high construction costs that will
be made worse by the loss of income from both waste
pickers and sanitation workers.
Methane capture can be expensive for the energy
Of course, these costs may be offset by monies gained
from selling carbon credits.
Should Africa be Investing
There is an argument that money being spent
on trash to energy projects would be better
spent of wind and solar projects,
So What Should Africa do?
Diversify projects
Put in protections for local
Use waste to energy projects when it
can, especially is a low cost option
does become available.