Municipal solid waste conversion to transportation fuels: a life-cycle estimation of global warming potential and energy consumption

Phillip N. Pressley, Tarek N. Aziz, Joseph F. DeCarolis, Morton A. Barlaz, Feng He, Fanxing Li, Anders Damgaard

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    This paper utilizes life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology to evaluate the conversion of U.S. municipal solid waste (MSW) to liquid transportation fuels via gasification and Fischer-Tropsch (FT). The model estimates the cumulative energy demand and global warming potential (GWP) associated with the conversion of 1 Mg (1 Mg = 1000 kg) of MSW delivered to the front gate of a refuse-derived fuel (RDF) facility into liquid transportation fuels. In addition, net energy production is reported to quantify system performance. The system is expanded to include substituted electricity and fuel. Under a set of default assumptions, the model estimates that 1 Mg of MSW entering the RDF facility yields 123 L of gasoline, 57 L of diesel, 79 kg of other FT products, and 193 kWh of gross electricity production. For each Mg of MSW, the conversion process consumes 4.4 GJ of primary energy while creating fuels and electricity with a cumulative energy content of 10.8 GJ. Across a range of waste compositions, the liquid fuels produced by gasification and FT processing resulted in a net GWP ranging from −267 to −144 kg CO2e per Mg MSW, including offsets for conventional electricity and fuel production. The energy requirement associated with syngas compression for FT processing was significant and resulted in high levels of process-related GWP. The model demonstrates that an increased biogenic MSW fraction, assumed to be carbon neutral, reduced the GWP. However, a greater GWP reduction could be obtained through reduced FT pressure requirements, increased gas reaction rates, or a less carbon intensive power mix.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
    Pages (from-to)145-153
    Number of pages9
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • Municipal solid waste
    • Gasification
    • Fischer-Tropsch
    • Life cycle assessment
    • Liquid fuels


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