Is ‘Waste-to-Energy’ Really a Renewable Energy Process?

I recently saw notice of a trash-to-energy plant being proposed for construction in Ireland. It said this project was eligible for renewable energy credits. Do you believe this to be true? I have never heard trash considered in this category. Jim M. , Windsor CT

Renewable energy is being interpreted very broadly these days, with both the nuclear industry trying to don the label and certain State portfolio standard definitions which include coal bed methane and deep well gas. In federal DOE programs, hydrogen made from natural gas and coal is being “spun” as renewable as are supposed ‘clean’ coal technologies. The core renewable energy technologies — biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind — are generally non-controversial, except certain environmental groups try to contain these, especially larger hydropower and certain biomass resources, from time-to-time. The two technologies that fall into definitional limbo are ‘waste heat’ known as either ‘cogeneration’ or more recently as ‘combined heat and power’ (chp) – zero emission electricity and thermal energy from existing processes. Trash plants — or what we usually call conventional incinerators — have been trashed (pun intended) by the environmental community because these mixed wastes have heavy metals and carcinogenic compounds that get dispersed in the air and water. Newer ‘direct burn’ technologies at exceedingly high temperatures and pressures seem to address many of these concerns. But the prevailing approach is to ‘source separate’ metals, plastics, chemically-treated wood (i.e. demolition) with solid enforcement mechanisms for recycling and then either utilize the gas (landfill gas) or combust the organic wastes for electricity — a much more benign approach. The biorefinery advocates go a step further and not only support generic recycling and energy production for heat and electricity, but also create a broad set of bioproducts which include building and roadway materials, fertilizers, pet litters, paints, and glues and resins – just to name a few co-products. The old saying that “one person’s waste is another’s treasure, is surely true. And I personally support waste heat and waste-to-energy, done in the most efficient, sustainable processes with strict local enforcement to ensure environmental compliance, as within the renewable energy definition.
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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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