Landfill Disposal Reduction and Electricity Generation From the Use of Municipal Solid Waste in Waste-to-Energy Technologies

EPA Grant Number: FP917297
Title: Landfill Disposal Reduction and Electricity Generation From the Use of Municipal Solid Waste in Waste-to-Energy Technologies
Investigators: Watson, Oneida A
Institution: Rice University
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: September 1, 2011 through August 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Land Protection , Academic Fellowships


Increases in electricity demand and the environmental contamination concerns associated with landfills have made the use of municipal solid waste (MSW) a target alternative fuel for electricity generation. This research will address which waste-to-energy (WtE) technologies are best suited to convert MSW to electricity by advancing the understanding of the thermodynamic properties of each WtE technology, and discerning how to optimize the deployment of these technologies by considering economic and environmental conditions, local MSW composition and other constraints.


This research will be conducted in two phases. The first stage will involve both static and dynamic simulations for each WtE technology using AspenTech™ software. This model will compare WtE technologies: gasification, pyrolysis, co-combustion and incineration for electricity generation (EG) efficiencies, pollutants and thermodynamic stability of pertinent reactions when varying MSW composition and local environmental conditions. The second stage will utilize the results from stage one in an energy system analysis (ESA), in addition to environmental and economic information gathered for local conditions. The ESA will incorporate a combined dynamic economic and environmental model that allows variations in policy scenarios.

Expected Results:

It is hypothesized that these simulations will provide more accurate EG efficiencies by accounting for variations in the MSW composition and process operating conditions, as well as predict the benefits of reusing WtE technology by-products as secondary heating sources. This information can be used to further predict which WtE technologies should be deployed in a region based on EG efficiencies and local variations in environmental regulatory constraints and economic competition caused by energy market conditions. nvestigating these WtE technologies compared to incineration may show mitigation of air and water quality degradation when used with current environmental pollution controls by lowering pollutants such as NOx and SOx, while utilizing the MSW more efficiently than incineration.

Potential to Further Environmental / Human Health Protection

Reducing landfill disposal will increase the amount of land available for other uses, and reduces the possibility of landfill leaching of contaminants into the soil and groundwater. Utilizing MSW as a fuel will partially displace traditional fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, reducing environmental impacts associated with fossil fuel extraction and combustion. The WtE technologies of pyrolysis, gasification and co-combustion have thermodynamic advantages over full oxidation (incineration) and can have lower air and water pollutant emissions.

Supplemental Keywords:

waste-to-energy, municipal solid waste fuel, landfill disposal reduction, thermodynamic modeling, energy system analysis, AspenTech

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final