Turning Rubbish Into Fuel

They are environmental debates which rage on: how should we dispose of our rubbish and how should we create electricity?

The Italian city of Rome is currently sending its rubbish to a waste-to-energy plant near the the Austrian city of Vienna. The rubbish is travelling by train up through Italy and across the Alps through Austria. The special deal came about because the EVN thermal waste utilisation plant in Austria has spare capacity, as in it is not being worked at 100% capacity and needed some extra rubbish. Rome was looking for somewhere to get rid of its rubbish in a greener way which lead to this special deal.

The Science Channel has a short video which explains how rubbish can be turned into energy using the example of trash from New York’s St Patrick’s Day being burnt and turned into electricity.  Going back to those trains of rubbish it may seem counter-intuitive to carry rubbish over 1,000km (620 miles) before disposing of it, but it is part of efforts in the European Union to make cities reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. “It is not crazy,” insists Gernot Alfons, head of the EVN thermal waste plant. For him it is an environmentally friendly solution and the rubbish trains are key. “The other alternative would be to put this rubbish into landfill, which creates a lot of methane emissions that create a lot of impact in terms of CO2 emissions. It is much better to transport this waste to a plant which has a high energy efficiency like ours.”

In Norway they developed another clever use of rubbish landfill sites by collecting the dangerous methane which is emitted from the rubbish and turning it into electricity. Even some British cities sent their rubbish over to Norway to be dealt with in their incinerator plants.

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There are green, environmental issues which should not be forgotten with this energy source: byproducts include bottom ash, which is sorted for metals and then recycled as fill for road construction or other projects, and fly ash, which is toxic and deposited in a landfill certified to handle hazardous materials. Meanwhile air emissions are cleaned through a series of scrubbers and filters and come out “far under what’s actually permitted,” in terms of air quality laws.

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