Life-cycle-assessment of the historical development of air pollution control and energy recovery in waste incineration

Anders Damgaard, C. Riber, Thilde Fruergaard, T. Hulgaard, Thomas Højlund Christensen

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Abstract

Incineration of municipal solid waste is a debated waste management technology. In some countries it is the main waste management option whereas in other countries it has been disregarded. The main discussion point on waste incineration is the release of air emissions from the combustion of the waste, but also the energy recovery efficiency has a large importance.

The historical development of air pollution control in waste incineration was studied through life-cycle-assessment modelling of eight different air pollution control technologies. The results showed a drastic reduction in the release of air emissions and consequently a significant reduction in the potential environmental impacts of waste incineration. Improvements of a factor 0.85–174 were obtained in the different impact potentials as technology developed from no emission control at all, to the best available emission control technologies of today (2010).

The importance of efficient energy recovery was studied through seven different combinations of heat and electricity recovery, which were modelled to substitute energy produced from either coal or natural gas. The best air pollution control technology was used at the incinerator. It was found that when substituting coal based energy production total net savings were obtained in both the standard and toxic impact categories. However, if the substituted energy production was based on natural gas, only the most efficient recovery options yielded net savings with respect to the standard impacts. With regards to the toxic impact categories, emissions from the waste incineration process were always larger than those from the avoided energy production based on natural gas. The results shows that the potential environmental impacts from air emissions have decreased drastically during the last 35 years and that these impacts can be partly or fully offset by recovering energy which otherwise should have been produced from fossil fuels like coal or natural gas.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWaste Management
Volume30
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)1244-1250
ISSN0956-053X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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