Optimal utilization of waste-to-energy in an LCA perspective

Thilde Fruergaard, Thomas Astrup

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    Energy production from two types of municipal solid waste was evaluated using life cycle assessment (LCA): (1) mixed high calorific waste suitable for production of solid recovered fuels (SRF) and (2) source separated organic waste. For SRF, co-combustion was compared with mass burn incineration. For organic waste, anaerobic digestion (AD) was compared with mass burn incineration. In the case of mass burn incineration, incineration with and without energy recovery was modelled. Biogas produced from anaerobic digestion was evaluated for use both as transportation fuel and for heat and power production. All relevant consequences for energy and resource consumptions, emissions to air, water and soil, upstream processes and downstream processes were included in the LCA. Energy substitutions were considered with respect to two different energy systems: a present-day Danish system based on fossil fuels and a potential future system based on 100% renewable energy. It was found that mass burn incineration of SRF with energy recovery provided savings in all impact categories, but co-combustion was better with respect to Global Warming (GW). If all heat from incineration could be utilized, however, the two alternatives were comparable for SRF. For organic waste, mass burn incineration with energy recovery was preferable over anaerobic digestion in most impact categories. Waste composition and flue gas cleaning at co-combustion plants were critical for the environmental performance of SRF treatment, while the impacts related to utilization of the digestate were significant for the outcome of organic waste treatment. The conclusions were robust in a present-day as well as in a future energy system. This indicated that mass burn incineration with efficient energy recovery is a very environmentally competitive solution overall.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalWaste Management
    Issue number3
    Pages (from-to)572-582
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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