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Bioenergy > Feedstocks > Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)

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Waste of various kinds can be used for bioenergy.


Municipal Solid Waste

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), also known as municipal waste, is a major potential feedstock for future use in biorefineries.



Sewage (liquid waste) can be used to generate methane/biogas.









  • EU carbon target threatened by biomass 'insanity' 2 April 2012 by Arthur Neslen for EurActiv: "The EU's emissions reduction target for 2020 could be facing an unlikely but grave obstacle, according to a growing number of scientists, EU officials and NGOs: the contribution of biomass to the EU's renewable energy objectives for 2020."
    • "On 29 March, a call was launched at the European Parliament for Brussels to reconsider its carbon accounting rules for biomass emissions, and EurActiv has learned that the issue is provoking widespread alarm in policy-making circles."
    • "Around half of the EU's target for providing 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 will be made up by biomass energy from sources such as wood, waste and agricultural crops and residues, according to EU member states' national action plans... Wood makes up the bulk of this target and is counted by the EU as 'carbon neutral', giving it access to subsidies, feed-in tariffs and electricity premiums at national level."
    • "But because there is a time lag between the carbon debt that is created when a tree is cut down, transported and combusted – and the carbon credit that occurs when a new tree has grown to absorb as much carbon as the old one – biomass will increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations in the interim." [1]


  • Turning Garbage Into Car Fuel? Venture Gains Momentum, 1 June 2011 by the New York Times Green blog: "Enerkem, a Montreal company that makes ethanol from old utility poles and household garbage, will announce Wednesday that a major independent oil refiner, Valero, has made its first investment in the company, and Waste Management, a trash-hauling company is raising its stake. With $60 million in new financing, total investment in Enerkem will reach $130 million."
    • "In Edmonton, the company has a 25-year contract to accept municipal solid waste, which means anything a household throws out. After separating out recyclable materials, it shreds the waste and heats it to around 400 degrees Celsius, or about 750 degrees Fahrenheit."
    • "At that temperature, the waste gives off a gas that includes hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Enerkem scrubs out the impurities, including carbon dioxide, and runs the gas over a catalyst, which converts it to methanol. The methanol can be turned into ethanol or a variety of other chemical feedstocks."
    • "Many companies are trying to use waste materials to make ethanol. Almost all of them pay for the raw materials, but Enerkem is paid to dispose of the garbage, making its feedstock 'cost-negative,' in the company’s phrase."
    • 'And making ethanol from garbage entails sharply lower carbon dioxide emissions than making it from corn does. Corn ethanol needs large amounts of natural gas, but the Enerkem process relies on the heat given off by the process itself so that no fossil fuels are burned except during the start-up. What is more, trash turned into fuel is trash that is not buried in a landfill, where it can give off methane, itself a potent global warming gas."[2]
  • Mexican Scientists Focus on Producing Biofuels from Trash, 15 April 2011 by Latin American Herald Tribune: "Mexican scientists are developing a bio-refinery that will convert organic waste into hydrogen, natural gas and substrates used in industry, the Center for Advanced Research and Studies, or Cinvestav, said."
    • "The project will emulate the operating model of a traditional refinery and obtain different products from the same material, in this case waste, Carlos Escamilla, a doctoral student in Cinvestav’s Biotechnology Department, said in a statement about the project he is heading."
    • "The novelty of the Mexican initiative is that hydrogen, methane and enzymes are to be produced from the same raw material."
    • "According to the doctoral student, Mexico produces 102,000 tons of garbage per day, or almost 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) per inhabitant, and 60 percent of that total is organic waste that 'could generate large amounts of electricity, natural gas and substrates for industrial use.'"[3]
  • New era dawns for mini synfuels, 11 March 2011 by Mail and Guardian Online: "South African technology, already demonstrated in Australia and China, is being used to generate liquid fuel from coal and gas but can also be used to make fuel from biomass, including municipal waste."
    • "Advances in the development of synthetic fuel by the University of the Witwatersrand's Centre of Materials and Process Synthesis (Comps) mean that smaller modular plants, which can produce both fuel and electricity, can do so while releasing 30% less CO2."
    • "The creation of fuel from biomass through a further application of the technology means municipal garbage dumps and landfills could become energy stores instead of expensive problems for future generations."
    • "The process, put simply, works as follows: coal is converted into gas, mainly carbon monoxide and hydrogen, through what is known as gasification. This gas is then converted into liquid fuel through the Fischer-Tropsch process, named after German scientists Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch, who invented it in the 1920s."
    • "Similarly, gas to liquids (GTL) converts natural gas to liquids and biomass to liquids (BTL) sees the gasification of waste, and the resultant gases are then converted to fuel."[4]
  • Brewery waste microbes could make biofuels, 25 February 2011 by Physorg.com: "Employing powerful genome sequencing tools, Cornell scientists led by Largus T. Angenent, associate professor of biological and environmental engineering, have gained new insight into how efficiently the microbes in large bioreactors produce methane from brewery waste."
    • "They hope to use their new knowledge to shape these microbial communities so they will produce liquid biofuels and other useful products."
    • "The scientists had access to a plethora of data, thanks to a collaboration with engineers at Anheuser-Busch InBev, which makes Budweiser beer and operates nine domestic beer breweries that treat wastewater in bioreactors."
    • "In ongoing research, the Cornell engineers are looking to prevent methane production by the microbes, and instead, to shape the bacterial communities to produce carboxylates, which are a precursor to the alkanes found in fuels."[5]


  • Algae Biofuels 10 Years From Viability, 8 November 2010 by Pete Danko: "Algae isn’t nearly ready for prime-time as a biofuel, according to a new study, and until it is the industry will need to seize upon non-fuel applications that could help make it cost-effective."
    • "The report found that even under best-case scenarios, oil produced from algae will remain excessively expensive in the 'near-to-mid-term.' Another challenge is that the industry is highly dependent on availability of suitable climate, water, flat land and carbon dioxide, all 'available in one location.' When everything comes together — perhaps 10 years of research, development and demonstration from now, 'algal oil production technology has the potential to produce several billion gallons of renewable fuel in the United States.'"
    • "To bridge the gap, the report recommends a focus on co-products — for instance, producing algal biofuels in conjuction with wastewater treatment. Another possibility cited was animal feeds."[8]
  • UN incineration plans rejected by world's rubbish-dump workers, 5 August 2010 by The Guardian: "The waste-pickers who scour the world's rubbish dumps and daily recycle thousands of tonnes of metal, paper and plastics are up in arms against the UN, which they claim is forcing them out of work and increasing climate change emissions."
    • "Their complaint, heard yesterday in Bonn where UN global climate change talks have resumed, is that the clean development mechanism (CDM), an ambitious climate finance scheme designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, has led to dozens of giant waste-to-energy incinerators being built to burn municipal rubbish, as well as hundreds of new landfill schemes designed to collect methane gas."
    • "'Waste-pickers, who are some of the poorest people on earth, recover recyclable materials. They are invisible entrepreneurs on the frontline of climate change, earning a living from recovery and recycling, reducing demand for natural resources,' says Neil Tangri, director of Gaia, an alliance of 500 anti-incinerator groups in 80 countries."
    • "But they are being undermined by CDM projects, which deny them entry to dumps. This is leading to further stress and hardship for some of the poorest people in the world and is increasing emissions,' he said."
    • "Yesterday Gaia called for the CDM to stop approving incinerator waste to energy projects and to start investing climate funds in the informal recycling sector. This, he said, would increase employment and labour conditions while dramatically reducing emissions."[9]
  • Klobuchar bill: trojan horse for bad biofuels, 14 July 2010, Nathanael Greene’s Blog/NRDC: "It should come as no surprise that the first copy of the full text of Sen Klobuchar's energy bill was found on a corn ethanol industry association website; the bill reads like the industry's wish list."
    • "Here are some of laundry list of bad biofuel provisions:
  • "Gutting the definition of renewable biomass so that it would include everything from old growth to garbage..."
  • "Legislating away the science of lifecycle GHG accounting for ethanol. Using lots of land to make ethanol instead of food means that food production moves to new land and that leads to deforestation."
  • "Defining mature and mainstream corn ethanol, which has been commercially produced for well over 30 years as an 'advanced biofuel' under the RFS2."[10]
  • PSC Approves Biomass Plant for Gainesville, 27 May 2010 by Gainesville Regional Utilities: "Plans to bring biomass energy to Gainesville took another step forward today. Commissioners from Florida’s Public Service Commission (PSC) approved GRU and American Renewables’ joint petition for the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, a planned 100-megawatt biomass plant."
    • "Under terms of the 30-year energy contract, American Renewables will build, own and operate the biomass facility. GRU will purchase and own 100 percent of the energy produced. The plant will be fueled by a plentiful, local supply of leftover clean woody waste using urban wood waste, wood processing wastes and logging residues."[14]
  • China Farm Gets Shocking Amount of Power From Cow Poop, 6 May 2010 by The New York Times: "A 250,000-head dairy operation in northeast China plans to open the world's largest cow manure-fed power project in September, according to General Electric Co., the company supplying four biogas turbines to the Liaoning Huishan Cow Farm in Shenyang. For comparison, the largest U.S. dairy farms have 15,000 cattle."
    • "China's newest livestock digester will reduce piles of dung, yield fertilizer and heat, and will supply 38,000 megawatt-hours of power annually to the state's power grid, enough to meet the average demand of some 15,000 Chinese residents. It produces biogas, a methane and carbon dioxide mix emanating from manure, grease, sewage or other organic materials allowed to stew in an oxygen-free chamber."
    • "The barriers to the expansion of biogas are about economics, not technology, and how long it takes for biogas projects to pay off varies country by country."
    • "The biogas field could be one more example of the ways the United States is falling behind China. Yesterday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that the United States is lagging behind China, which provides strong tax incentives for a host of renewable energy technologies."[15]
  • Obama touts ethanol as vital piece of rural economic recovery, 28 April 2010 by Ben Geman, The Hill:"Obama endorsed expanded ethanol production during a speech at a Macon, Missouri plant owned by POET, the country’s largest ethanol producer."
    • "Obama noted funding for ethanol projects and research in last year’s stimulus law, and also cited his interagency biofuels working group. The administration wants to see ethanol production tripled over the next 12 years, he said. "
    • "POET and other companies are also seeking to develop next-generation fuels made from materials such as crop wastes, algae and grasses."[16]
  • PRC's Drive to Tap Biogas in Rural Sector Gets ADB Loan, 19 April 2010 press release by the Asian Development Bank: "The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) drive to expand the use of biogas energy generated from waste materials is getting support from a $66.08 million Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan."
    • "The financial assistance for the Integrated Renewable Biomass Energy Development Sector Project has been approved by ADB's Board of Directors. The loan will be used to help construct biogas plants in poor rural areas of Heilongjiang, Henan, Jiangxi and Shandong provinces, benefiting 118 livestock farms and agricultural enterprises.
    • "The project will introduce high-temperature flare technology to minimize methane gas emissions from the plants. It will support the manufacture of bio-fertilizers from biogas sludge for eco-farming, aiding the government’s push to encourage the reuse and recycling of organic waste."
    • "Under PRC’s Medium- and Long-Term Development Plan for Renewable Energy, about 10,000 large-scale biogas plants are earmarked to be set up on livestock farms by 2020 with an annual biogas yield of up to 14 billion cubic meters."[17]
  • Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags, 13 April 2010 by the New York Times: Twenty-nine modern waste-to-energy incinerators in Denmark "have become both the mainstay of garbage disposal and a crucial fuel source across Denmark....Their use has not only reduced the country’s energy costs and reliance on oil and gas, but also benefited the environment, diminishing the use of landfills and cutting carbon dioxide emissions."
    • "With all these innovations, Denmark now regards garbage as a clean alternative fuel rather than a smelly, unsightly problem."
    • "Across Europe, there are about 400 plants, with Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands leading the pack in expanding them and building new ones."
    • "By contrast, no new waste-to-energy plants are being planned or built in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency says — even though the federal government and 24 states now classify waste that is burned this way for energy as a renewable fuel, in many cases eligible for subsidies. There are only 87 trash-burning power plants in the United States, a country of more than 300 million people, and almost all were built at least 15 years ago."
    • One reason is that "powerful environmental groups have fought the concept passionately. 'Incinerators are really the devil,' said Laura Haight, a senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group."[19]
  • Biofuels: Airplane fuel of the future?, 5 April by Arthur Max, Associated Press: "Within a decade, passenger planes will be flying on jet fuel largely made from plants — flax, marsh grass, even food waste — as airlines seek to break away from the volatile oil market and do their part to fight climate change, aviation experts say."
    • "Dependency on agrofuels 'will lead to faster deforestation and climate change and spells disaster for indigenous peoples, other forest-dependent communities and small farmers, says a statement from the Global Forest Coalition, an alliance of environmental groups."
    • "A Swiss-based organization, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, has drawn up standards for certifying the entire chain of production."
    • "The European Union has decided that by 2012 all flights into and from European airports will be subject to the European carbon trading program. That means airlines will be given a limit on how much carbon dioxide they can emit, and they can buy or sell carbon credits depending on whether they are over or under their targets."[20]


  • Trash Becomes Ethanol in Major Canadian Alt-Fuel Move, 15 December 2008 by The Cutting Edge:
    • Canada's "Edmonton has an aggressive trash reduction program with 60 percent of all solid waste being recycled or composted. What’s new is that they intend to improve that figure by taking an additional 30 percent of their waste stream and making ethanol."
    • "The city expects to put 75,000 tons of waste into the process annually and get back nearly seven and a half million gallons of ethanol. The payback on the $70 million investment should come very quickly, even with the currently depressed oil prices — perhaps in as little as seven to ten years." [24]
  • Municipal waste to produce ethanol by 2011, 21 July 2008 in the Financial Times: "The world's first commercially produced ethanol from municipal waste will be on sale by early 2011, according to Ineos, the privately-held chemicals group backing the technology."
    • "The costs of the process "stack up very well, and are cost competitive against any other approach to producing ethanol."
    • "The EU's target is to get to 10 per cent of its road fuel coming from biofuels by 2020...."That implies that, relying on the Ineos process alone, more than half of all the EU's organic municipal waste would have to be used for fuel to meet the target."


Waste for bioenergy use edit
Wood waste (Wood pellets)
Agricultural waste (Biomass pellets, Corn stover, Dung, Straw, Waste citrus peels, Manure, Green manure)
Municipal waste (Municipal Solid Waste - MSW)
Waste Vegetable Oil
Bioenergy feedstocks edit

Biodiesel feedstocks:
Currently in use: Animal fat | Castor beans | Coconut oil | Jatropha | Jojoba | Karanj | Palm oil | Rapeseed | Soybeans | Sunflower seed | Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO)
Currently in research and development: Algae | Halophytes (Salt-tolerant plants)

Ethanol feedstocks:
First-generation: Cassava | Corn | Milo | Nypa palm | Sorghum | Sugar beets | Sugar cane | Sugar palm |Sweet potato | Waste citrus peels | Wheat | Whey
Second-generation: For cellulosic technology - Grasses: Miscanthus, Prairie grasses, Switchgrass | Trees: Hybrid poplar, Mesquite, Willow

Charcoal feedstocks: Bamboo | Wood
Waste-to-energy (MSW)


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